My thoughts on team work

Team work is the combined action of a group of people, especially when effective and efficient. The opposite of what makes a team work is when said same group of people’s actions create an ineffective and inefficient result. Questions are then asked about the talent level of the team members. The talent level of the manager and or team leader. And other questions such as motivation or whether each of the team’s members get along with each other, and why not? You have heard the phrase “team work makes the dream work” and while this saying is mostly attributed to a married relationship, it can be used for anything requiring different people coming together for a purpose. The sporting world are some of the best and most immediate evidence of team work failing or succeeding. When someone is looking on the outside at a sports team, their views tend to be one hundred percent bias for the team or a favorite player. The regular fan doesn’t care about the exacting make up of the team and the mechanism behind it. They just want a good “bang for their buck”.

Team work as it relates to basketball

Over the past five years, the Golden State warriors exemplified team work at its highest. They were once a team with three very good players with unique and complementary skill set, that made them the darling of the league and incur a host of band wagon jumpers. Later they acquired what is called a generational talent, despite his fragile ego, to make them virtually unbeatable. This year the acquired another outstanding talent, also with emotional issues, but the sum of the talent is supposed to out weigh any individual ego, because they had built a foundation of team work and sharing, that made them so well oiled that some believe even the cookie monster from sesame street could coach that team. However to say that anybody could coach a bunch of talented and skilled players, with big, sometimes out of control egos is short-changing the “skill” necessary to keep all these egos in check, massage those egos and get them to buy into the concept of sharing the scoring load unselfishly. Let me reiterate …. UNSELFISHLY! This is what makes any team work. More so if the team is very skilled and the parts tend to feel their ego is bigger than the team. A manager or coach who can manage this is in a rarefied stratosphere. This is why is the NBA, Phil Jackson is not considered a good X and O coach, because he is not. What he is excellent at is manipulating the ego of a sociopath (Jordan) and a distraction ( Rodman) while making everybody else feel they are equally a part of the team’s success.

The opposite of a functioning team which is in name only, is the recently constructed Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are the second most title-winning franchise in the history of the league, after the Boston Celtics and the second most expensive franchise after the New York Knicks. The also have, at least this year the most expensive court side and box seats in the league. This is mainly due to the signing of another generational talent in LeBron James. The difference between the construction of the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks and the LA Lakers, is the over infatuation with assembling star power over parts that fits as a well oiled machine. For the last several years, the General Manager of the Boston Team, was lauded for his ability to maneuver out of unlikable contracts, collecting long-term  draft picks and assembling a team with less star power and more hard-working bodies that made it to the eastern championship and would have gone farther if not for that afore-mentioned generational talent in LeBron James. So what did Danny Ainge do? fell in love with star power to the point where he was willing to upset the team by trying to trade them for another generational talent in Anthony Davis. This is where massaging the ego comes in. The current coach Brad Stevens is very good at relating to a bunch of none stars or young players and getting them to buy into his schemes, which is pretty good. Once success happened, the parts start unravelling as individuals start believing they are bigger than the team. The NBA more than any league is one where star power is pretty evident and most front office types and coaches are afraid to hold their stars and complementary players accountable.  This is why there are only a few coaches in the history of the league that is bigger than the players. No matter the star power. Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, Jerry Sloan and Greg Popovich. Those three more than any other controlled their fate and their teams fate more than any one player and thus are three of the winningest coaches in the history of the game.

The biggest difference between them and others is the fact that once the owners and president of the teams overstood that these men where knowledgeable and commanded respect, they were allowed cart blanche over the day-to-day operation of the team. The New York Knicks was for years under James Dolan was so enamoured with star power and him thinking that people came to see him, that franchise was the laughing-stock of the league for a long time. Recently they having been trying to build from the ground up instead of swinging for the fences in acquiring stars. However, it doesn’t mean they have stopped trying if reports coming out about them chasing one or two super stars are to be believed.  I don’t know if the former owner of the LA Lakers, Jerry Buss, was a basketball generous.  But what was evident was that he was able to assemble talented players and managers around him and left them to do what they do. He was also willing to pay good money for good products, unlike the Knicks who spent good money on bad products. When NBA legend Earvin Johnson became president of the LA Lakers, he had as his side kick a former player agent. Together they set out to fill the roster with star power as befitting the most “exciting show on the hard court”. They got rid of a bunch of non super star talents, who worked hard, in the hopes of assembling a star-studded team. The problem from the jump was, in looking towards 2019 and 2020 to get all that star power, they assembled a team of misfits, who cannot shoot, cannot defend and most importantly, lack basketball IQ.

Now overstand that ALL sports team benefit from massive teevee deals that would see each team gain profits even if a stadium sits empty for half the year. So on the surface there is very little incentives for some owners and front office personnel’s to put in the maximum efforts to create a scene and operation for success. This would require hiring good effective people instead of your friends, or related sycophants. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for nepotism as long as who you are hiring is qualified to do more than cheerlead.  If team work make the dream work, and hard work beats talent, if talent doesn’t work hard, then the LA Lakers exemplifies why just assembling potential or “talents” that does not mesh together or does not appear to fulfill the goals of the long-term organization is a recipe for disaster. Every basketball team must know three things, how to play basic defence, how to run a basic offence and maximize the skills of each player. For instance, you cannot run out an unfit player to play a run-and – gun style of basket ball, so the coach must be cognoscent of this and not try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Having a coach and a GM with the same philosophy AND the flexibility to adjust for your scheme, to accommodate the skill level of the players you have, goes along way towards team success. Each team must learn the basics of making free throws. Dribbling with both hands. Laying the ball in with both hands. Moving your feet on defence. How to set a pick with out fouling. How to play man to man and zone defence. And learning how to communicate with each other on the floor. Basic foundational knowledge and skills that will see a team function well.

A new Paradigm

Before 1805, most military command was linear, the leader passes orders down the chain and it is implemented by the next tier of commanders till it got to the foot soldiers. Great leaders like Hannibal in repeatedly defeating the Romans on their own soil, and T’chaka of the Zulus, introduced great military tactics in order to conquer and bring various nations into one large Zulu nation. These wo are but two examples of strong personalities and brilliant strategies making tactical skills seem divine. But each were examples of linear leadership. Under Napoleon between 1805 and 1809 a new type of deployment was introduced to Europe and the world. Tired of his megalomaniac plans being thwarted and having his ass kicked repeatedly outside of France, Napoleon came up with what was known as the grande army. It was here the introduction of the corp, with each corp being lead by little imitation Napoleons.  Each leader is given a specific order and have to figure out the best way to implement them and accomplish the ends. Each mini leader goes back to his individual corp to carry out that order from the supreme leader. What we have here is not only faith by the leader to give his subordinate the freedom to implement his over all plans without looking ove their shoulders, but to ensure that his grand vision is implemented, he has trained the leaders to think like him within the scheme of the grand vision. Of course this new paradigm would not be effective otherwise. Since then, most militaries around the world are set up like this amurdikkklan model seen below, highlighting the smallest unit up to the largest group.

Unit Name Alternative Names Components Commander’s Rank
Fireteam 4 Soldiers Staff Sgt
Squad Section (Cavalry) 4-10 Soldiers Sgt or Staff Sgt
Platoon 16-40 Soldiers in 2 or more Squads Lieutenant
Company Troop (Cavalry), Battery (Artillery) 100-200 Soldiers in 3-5 Platoons Captain
Battalion Squadron (Cavalry) 4-6 Companies Lt. Colonel
Brigade Group (Logistics or Special Forces) 2-5 Battalions Colonel
Division 3 or more Brigades Major General
Corps 2 or more Divisions Lt. General
Field Army 2 or more Corps General (or Lt. General)
Army Group 2 or more Field Armies General

What this means for aspiring organizations.

Since then many business and social organizations have tried to set up in a similar fashion. Striving to have a corp mentality built into their make up. Suffice to say many companies still maintain the linear form of leadership, mainly because a lot of them are run by control freaks. The problem of smaller organization trying to run a linear operation is the leader ends up being the chief cook, bottle washer, cleaner and delivery person. Which means that others in the organization tend to end up impotently waiting and watching for the leader to make a decision. Many a times these leaders do not have the all around knowledge and or skills that would make for a successful organization. For instance, I maybe good at writing proposals, but lousy at doing the accounting books. Or I am good with organizational structure, but am completely clueless in out reaching to potential investors. Now if it’s a small enough company, you may have no other choice but to be a jack of all trades. What I find simply egregious is when organizations don’t have to be so linear that they fail to train secondary players in effective roles within the organizations. Too many black organizations follow this trend. Especially political or religious ones. Then when the leader falls off for some reasons, the organization suffers because most of the other secondary players lack over all knowledge of the day-to-day operations, or membership becomes so enamoured with the leaders personality, that they end up not trusting the secondary player because they are seen as just that. Secondary.

More than 10 years ago, a small black student organization at Toronto’s Ryerson University, dared to invite a speaker representing the NOI in the name of Malik Zulu Shabazz, who was also associated to the elevated ancestor, Khalid Abdul Muhammad. Listening to the news I immediately overstood that this was not going to go well, because of the concentrated attack that would be meted out by Europeans and kneegrows. I told myself, I hope these students are tightly organized. Upon hearing them interview the organizations leader, a young female, I knew this event was not going to go off. She lacked the ability to articulate the organizations position intelligently and more importantly strategically to offset the blow back from any association with the NOI and brother Muhammad. I took it upon myself to go down there, hoping to share a bit of my experience with these youngsters. I saw myself in these students back in my days, and overstood the pressure they will come under unless they stood strong. In speaking to one of their representatives…I wasn’t able to speak to the chair of the organization…I asked them if they had a P.R. person on tap. No! I told them that by no mans should she have had to face the journalist hoards by herself. I then asked if they had a ready-made script, with the correct political double speak to at least appease the fence sitters. No! From that point on I realize that the organization was excited to put on an event with the celebrity of the moment, but had no clear-cut idea what they were getting into with this controversial figure. Suffice to say the event was cancelled.

This incident exemplifies how black organizations are currently run with black people. We use the social approach instead of a military approach to running an organization. Even one that engages in social services. We are still seeing the lineal leadership model, that once the leader is taken out internally or externally, the organization pretty much dies. Normally such organization exists on the personality of the designated leader. Yes! They may have vice presidents, treasurers and secretaries, as required by man-made law to run a for profit or non-profit organization. But those people are often neutered by lack of knowledge, leadership training and the organizational structure where every thing positive must be given the stamp of approval by the designated leader. The problem with that is the secondary players are not allowed to think outside the box or implement anything of value that supports the organizational vision.

Any type of teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability. The Individual’s commitment to a group effort is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team and the best team and teamwork comes from people who are working independently toward one goal in unison. in order to have this kind of team mates, the leader, GM, Coach etc., must assess their needs and assess the value each parts add to the whole. Just because this person comes with a sparkling resume or a sweet jump shot, doesn’t mean they work well with others and it certainly doesn’t indicate whether the individual is willing to work within the confines of the team goal. Whenever i go to a job interview I am not amazed or upset anymore when my decades of experience is over shadowed by a résumé that is not modern. I didn’t say updated, I said modern. As someone who used to be a job counsellor I can predict how the interviewer will act based on my sex, my age, my color, my demeanor, how recently I left school, whether I have a degree and at what level.  Very few instances is my experience factored into the process. These days having a degree does not show native intelligence or even skills, because you still have to be trained on the company’s vision. And I have seen enough graduates that move the stupid meter too far to the right. No! these days a degree or diploma indicates your controllability or the comfortability of the interviewer, who are usually white, female or lacking in the years of experience I have, so they are intimidated. In the past I have been passed over for being over qualified more than being under qualified. If any organization is interested in real growth, they have to remove the run of the mill qualification they use to hire somebody. You don’t always have to be the smartest in the room, therefore should not be intimidated by some young intern with go, go gadget energy. What you need to do is ensure their vision is the same as yours and indoctrinate them to that end.

Organizations should always have daily meetings and leadership training for staff and encourage initiatives from each. It helps so much more if he designated leader is him or herself following the same vision they espouse. Too many organizations are run by incompetent, ignorant ( lacking knowledge), imbeciles, whose selfish behavior dooms the organization and disenchanted the members. Stealing funds, back stabbing and screwing the secretary or the new intern is not how one sustain a strong organization. Most black non-profit organizations are either set up as grant whores, tricking so often to the government for funding while failing to utilize the “build from the ground up” methods used by people before us. The fact that most do not overstand how a non-profit really works is very sad. To take advantage of the presence of non-profit organization to fatten your pockets and boost your ego is criminal. For profit organizations model themselves completely on the European scale. Which means they would sell out their mothers for profit. More than anything, what any organization needs are strong designated leadership, with a clear and concise vision. Strong secondary and tertiary leadership that embrace the organizational vision and is willing to sacrifice for the team. And it needs good foot soldiers who also buy into the vision. A successful organization that leaps over the competition should encourage initiatives in the rank and file, train them to express these initiatives and learn to manipulate these energies for one single purpose. The end goal and vision of the organization. It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

A few quotes on team work:

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” – Napoleon Hill

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” – Booker T. Washington

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock 

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie 

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin 

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – Henry Ford

“We go faster alone, we go farther together”- Afurakan proverbs