The Tokyo Olympics finally brought some positive news to report on. After a year dominated by COVID country statistics, we are now talking about countries winning medals. Humanity and what is good in people shines when we cheer for each other.
In this picture, Jacquelyn Young, Stefanie Dolson, Kelsey Plum, and Allisha Gray of Team United States celebrate victory and winning the gold medal in the 3×3 Basketball competition on day five of the Olympic Games on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. What stood out for me, as I was reading about their victory was how their feminine leadership shined through in the humility and grace they showed as they accepted their prize.
Plum led the early charge, scoring the team’s first five points in the final game and she also scored the most points for the America’s team in the tournament; her total tally was 55 points in nine games, and still this is her statement:
“I’m so proud of this team and myself too. We fought so hard to get here and it wasn’t always easy and we’re really happy with what we’ve done…’
Jacquelyn Young said: “I’m so happy to have been a part of this,” Gray, dedicated the gold to her parents who “sacrificed so much” for her, supporting her dreams “all the way.”
As a coach for business teams, I couldn’t help myself from drawing an analogy with the teams I have been part of in my corporate life or with the teams I had the honour of coaching. There is so much we can learn from sport teams, but ultimately the reason why everybody loves to watch sport teams is the emotions: joy, pride, happiness, tears, are all shared among players. This is what unifies them and this is what makes them perform in those last seconds when they need a win. It is not the pep talk of their team leader or their team coach that gets the adrenaline surging and it is not even the clarity of their common purpose.
In the past ten years of coaching leadership teams, I focused a lot on the importance of a shared team purpose. My sense is that ‘purpose’ is the most used word in the business slang nowadays. Too many hours have been spent on team workshops that eventually lead to a nice statement. And, if we learned anything from the 2020-2021 virtual business teams, is that people need human connection and emotions in order to sustain performance and team spirit on long term.
The first team I ever experienced, it wasn’t a sport team or a school team. It was actually the multi-generational Economu family I grew-up in when living on a farm in Romania. My Grandma was the Matriarchal leader. We all had clear roles and tasks at the farm, even myself as a 7-year old girl I had to help with the animals. I got to play, but I also had duties. When we had good crops due to a good summer and lots of hard work, we all celebrated the win because we all contributed.
So what makes a real team, if not the T-shirt they wear?
For me it is a about a group of people with complimentary skills who share a common purpose and passion and because of that they are willing to do whatever tasks are needed to deliver and exceed on the expectations set upon themselves by their stakeholders and by their ambition. A real team shares emotions and players are comfortable with constructive conflict when if it serves the bigger team cause.
In a real team, players are humble, proud and grateful to be a part of a group, even when individually they scored the highest points. Just like Stephanie Dolson, of the USA 3×3 baseball team did.
If you were to compare your work team with a sports team or with a family team, what would you be missing? What can you learn?
And because it’s important to lead your team with empathy and high energy, even when you are not the formal leader, transformation starts with you.