Making It All Come Together

Teamwork is dependent on trusting the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time. But trusting that they’re gonna come through with their parts. And, that’s what we do really well. — Steve Jobs, D8 Conference, 2010

I’ve been a fan of Liverpool Football Club for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories as a child was learning the names: Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Craig Johnston, Bruce Grobbelaar (not easy for a 5 year old who had trouble with language and speech), Graeme Souness and Kevin Keegan.

What excited me about the club is that it won a lot in the 80s. They were the best team in the English league and while Dalglish and Rush are possibly amongst the game’s best individually, they played amazingly well together. The Liverpool team of the 80s won league championship during the the 1979-80, 81-82, 82-83, 83-84, 85-86, 87-88, and 89-90. That’s seven championships in 10 years.

They built a great team.

My second favorite team is the New Zealand All Blacks. The All Blacks are legendary in the game of rugby and are the most successful international side in the history of the game.

A friend once told me that rugby is the ultimate team sport. It’s 15 players, playing together in unison. Executing both strategy and tactics for 80 minutes. Each man has his role. 15 individual roles that have to come together to win the game. When there are breakdowns in a rugby game, the consequences can be immediate and devastating.

I’ve been thinking a lot about teamwork and what it takes to win lately. Not in the kumbaya sense, but in how assemble a group of people that are excellent at what they do and get them to do it in a way that creates value. Value that is a large multiple of the individuals that make up the team.

From what I can tell, you need a few things:

1. Something that ties it all together. A vision. A direction. A cause. A mission. A belief. A fight. Everyone has to buy into it. It has to be a unifying force that gives us, as humans, something to go after.

2. Brilliance. Excellence. Anything short of that from any part of the team can be fatal. Sure, we all have our bad days and that’s fine, but you can’t have an A-Team made up of people that are C-players, even a few of them. The worst thing that happens is when others end up having to take up slack time and again because of non-performers. Don’t settle if you can.

3. Desire to win. Ability to win. Knowing how to win. I’ve seen this quite a bit lately where some people just don’t know how to win. In sports, not winning is often a physical thing. But, it’s also a mental thing. I’ll say it again, there are people that just don’t know how to win. You see this in business too. The thing that kills me is when I see people who aren’t willing to learn to win.

Of course there are many more variables in sports, business, and in life. Luck’s a big one sometimes. Getting people to work with each other, smart or dumb, can be challenging.

To me though, these are the key ingredients that you need to put together or be part of as a winning team. When these pieces come together well, you get the trust that Steve Jobs is talking about and hopefully a tiny bit of his success. Without it, well, we can talk all about what happens another time.

Now, if only Liverpool would stop breaking my heart the way they have over the last 20 years.