This weekend I spent a good bit of time watching Friday Night Lights, the television series about high school football in rural Texas. The show is packed with life lessons and inspiring stories, but the thing that I enjoy the most is the team camaraderie among the high school football players, the Dillon Panthers. Those players are there for each other on and off the field and have a very strong bond that allows them to accomplish truly great things together.
Not to wax nostalgic, but I remember having that same feeling during my days playing college lacrosse. From the locker room to the classroom to the playing field, my teammates and I were inseparable. We trusted each other deeply and knew we could count on each other to do our respective jobs.
We all knew with 100% certainty that everyone on the team was fully committed to the team and would do whatever it took to beat our opponents. We counted on each other as teammates and we all delivered. The feeling is almost magical – together we felt invincible. It was probably the most motivating feeling I’ve ever felt.
With all of these memories flooding back, it begs the question: How can that same feeling of team camaraderie be recreated in the office environment? The feeling where everyone in the company is part of a team and all departments work together to overcome a common opponent.
I’ve often found that, rather than playing as one team against a common opponent outside the company, sometimes we tend to find opponents inside our own companies to play against. Departments will start competing against each other for resources and authority, pointing fingers and focusing their competitive attention inward, on their own colleagues. I believe that the first step to creating team camaraderie in the office environment is ensuring that competitive attention is directed externally rather than internally.
So, how do we do that?
Thinking back to my sports days, during any competition we always had two important elements:
1) A Scoreboard
2) An Opponent
There is nothing more key to the concept of competition than a scoreboard. It shows you the critical information of how you’re doing compared to your opponent, whether you are behind and need to rally, or ahead and need to protect your lead. But more than that, a scoreboard is a reminder that you are in a competition. At the end of the day there will be winners and losers and if you want to win, you need to work harder, think faster and execute better than your opponent.
Who are you playing against? This may sound obvious, but you need to know who your opponent is. It’s good to know the name of the team (or company) that you’re competing against, however it’s far better to know the names of the individual players. The week before every lacrosse game our coaches always gave us a comprehensive scouting report to take home. The scouting report contained stats on the team we were about to play that weekend, but also the names, skills and tendencies of each of that team’s players. I played defense, and before every game I knew the name of the offensive player I was matched up against, I knew where he had played in high school, I knew how much experience he had in his current position, whether he played more with his left hand or right hand, where he liked to shoot the ball from, etc. I memorized all of his habits and before each game when we lined up to shake hands, I looked my opponent square in the eye and knew exactly who I had to beat that day.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that humans tend to naturally find an opponent. No matter what we’re doing, or where we are, there is always someone we’re playing against. It’s important to take measure to make sure the opponent that we find is the right opponent and that we get to know that opponent deeply.
In past companies I’ve seen that no amount of org change or org structure modification can overcome the feeling of not being on the same team, but after you’ve created a strong sense of team camaraderie, there is nothing that you can’t accomplish together.