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    Entries in teamwork (14)


    Get Lucky

    This weekend, a decent, reasonably warm beginning of summer weekend in Western NY, while in the car on my way to either the gym or the gun club or my volunteer work with the homeless, 2013's song of the summer, Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' came on the radio.

    You have to remember 'Get Lucky'. It was peppy, infectious, ubiquitous on the radio and on play lists just a few year's ago. The perfect summer song, probably. For some reason after hearing the song again, and for the first time in a while, I thought about a profile/interview of the guys in Daft Punk, (hardly anyone knows their real names, so I won't bother with them here), that ran in GQ, right around the time when 'Get Lucky' was on high rotation.

    If you don't know much about Daft Punk, you probably know at least this - 'Get Lucky' was their biggest commercial hit, and that Daft Punk are the guys who wear the robot helmets, and have almost never been photographed without them (see pic on right).

    The reasons for the helmets, disguises if you will, are as inscrutable as the performers themselves, but probably are not too hard to at least guess at.

    By wearing the helmets the Daft Punk guys get to concentrate on the art, not some kind of curated image, (actually it is a curated image, it's just one they define and control 100%), and also get to enjoy life outside of Daft Punk and the helmets as more or less 'normal' people. For international pop stars, the ability to walk down a street in New York or Paris or anywhere else and not be bothered by selfie-seeking fans has to be pretty valuable.

    But back to the reason why I thougth about this and wanted to write about a four year-old song and interview.

    In the GQ piece, the writer tries to learn more about how some of the songs on Daft Punk's new album were put together. Specifically, he asks which of the two Daft Punkians were responsible for a particular robot voice sound effect that is present on much of the material, as the effect stands out quite a bit.

    The answer from Daft Punk?

    "It doesn't matter.

    Love that answer. The two guys in Daft Punk have their partnership and process down so much, and are so comfortable with each other's position that they don't need to claim ownership of any particular aspect of the creation. 

    Can you imagine McCartney or Lennon answering a similar question about 'Hey Jude' the same way?

    If you are really, truly, going to have a successful partnership or a team, one that can withstand all the ups and downs that naturally are going to test you, I think the Daft Punk position of 'It doesn't matter who did what, just listen to the result" might be the most important and telling condition for that kind of success.

    If the robot on the left was interested in tying to make sure he got the credit and the acclaim for every element that he specifically contributed to the results, then you don't really have Daft Punk any longer. 

    You have two guys dressed in robot costumes.

    What's the song of summer 2017? 

    Have a great week!


    TEAM BUILDING ACTIVITY: Create your own motivational posters

    We've all seen the incredibly ubiquitous line of 'Successories' posters that have graced workplaces all over the world in the last ten years or so. You know the classic high resolution shots of mountains or a crew team rowing on a picturesque river or a graceful eagle soaring above a beautiful valley.

    These images are accompanied by inspiring maxims or slogans with words like 'Perserverance', 'Focus', or 'Trust'. These posters, (a classic example of one is on the right), are terrible.

    They are terrible not in that we shouldn't try to find sources of motivation and inspiration, especially at work, but that they don't offer any meaningful or applicable insight into how we can actually become more motivated or engaged. 'A team is only as strong as it's weakest member' probably isn't going to motivate everyone on the team to get better. It will, likely, make everyone perform a quick mental exercise attempting to identify the actual weakest link and a scheme to get that weakest link kicked off the team (or fired).

    I thought about these Successories posters not from catching one in the service center customer waiting room at the Chevy dealer, (although I am pretty sure there is one there), but from catching this piece on Laughing Squid - An Amusing Line of Self-Defeating Motivational Posters That Quote Morrissey Lyrics as a Source of Inspiration. These posters, sharing the same kinds of imagery as the Successories posters, are of course awesome. Drop a Morrissey lyric like "There are brighter sides to life and I should know, because I've seen them - but not very often" over a backdrop of a gorgeous blue ocean and you have an unmitigated win.

    The Morrissey inspirational posters are fun, but I doubt, just like the inane Successories posters that you would actually get any value from tacking them up on the break room wall. But what I think would be fun, and perhaps even a little instructive in a way, is to have your staffs create their own versions of the Successories gimmick using the same kinds of stock images, but having the employees write their own taglines and calls to action that would be more relevant to your specific organization.

    I will even get you started, (feel free to add your caption, slugline in the comments), with the classic 'Rowers' image sans the good folks at Successories (or Morrissey), telling you what to think about it.

    What do you have?

    I might go with 'CONFORMITY: If we all wear the same outfits we will be sure to head in the same direction (let's hope it's the right one)'



    The value of keeping the team intact: NBA edition

    Drowned out by the overwhelming amount of fan and media attention that accompanied the recent decision by basketball's LeBron James to leave his team of the last four seasons, Miami, and return to his original club in Cleveland, another team in the NBA has quietly completed the execution of a different kind of talent strategy in advance of the 2014-2015 NBA season.

    The talent strategy? The retention of key players and team leadership. The team? The NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs who recently defeated James and Miami 4 games to 1 in the NBA Finals, thus setting off a chain of events of player movement (starting with the league's best player, James), that is still not completely settled almost two months from the end of the season.

    The Spurs' retention strategy concluded with the re-signing to a multi-year contract extension of the team's longtime coach Gregg Popovich. From the ESPN.com piece announcing Coach Pop's contract extension:

    Gregg Popovich has agreed to a multiyear contract extension to continue coaching the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

    Popovich, 65, has coached San Antonio to five NBA titles since becoming the team's coach in 1996-97. 

    The Spurs won their first championship since 2007 last month when they defeated the Miami Heat in five games in the NBA Finals.

    With Tim DuncanBoris Diaw and the rest of San Antonio's key players all set to return next season, it was no surprise that Popovich has signed on for a few more years.

    The long time coach, Popovich. The 'Big Three' star players, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili. All of the important reserve/role players that helped the team vanquish the Heat in a five game series that was for the most part, incredibly one-sided. Everyone that played a key part and made needed contributions to the Spurs' great season and eventual NBA title are returning to the team next season.

    In modern professional sports, the ability to retain so much of the key talent from a championship team is almost unheard of. Individual players, emboldened by their status as 'championship winners', often seek (rightly), to leverage that status into more lucrative contracts with competing teams. Some reserve players get uncomfortable returning to a team where they are likely to remain reserves for another season, thus potentially detracting from their longer term market value. And in sports, just like in any other business, sometimes people get tired of working with each other after a few years, and seek to use the success as a launch pad to something and somewhere else.

    Retention as a strategy is sometimes, perhaps even regularly overlooked in sports and in many other types of organizations as well. Some people like to say retention is an outcome, and not really a strategy in of itself. It could be, but either way that does not diminish its importance and role in long-term organizational success.

    ALL the NBA chatter this off-season has been about where LeBron was going to play next season, what his decision meant for the other stars on Miami, and how these moves impacted the eventual recruiting strategies of the other teams in the league. And while all this talk about player movement, potential trades, and how certain players might fit in with their new teams is fun and interesting for fans, it completely obscures what the most successful organization of the past 15 years has been doing.

    The Spurs led the NBA in victories, won their 5th NBA title in the Popovich/Duncan era by defeating James and Miami in convincing fashion, and then re-signed Popovich and all the important players from that team and NO ONE is talking about them.

    It is because retention is boring. Recruiting is fun and exciting though, so we like to talk about that instead. But retention, stability, and sticking to a winning formula probably gives the Spurs, (and your organization too), a better shot at long term success than chasing elusive talent and not doing enough to convince your home grown talent to stick around.


    The three people needed for a successful revolution

    Over the weekend I caught this interesting piece on the Kottke.org site titled, The three types of specialist, and I think it is worth taking a look at if either you are at interesting in starting your own revolution, or just want to build better teams in your organization - ones that are more likely to be successful pulling off major change initiatives. And it doesn't hurt that this week here in the US we celebrate Independence Day - our most famous revolution.

    The piece quotes from a Kurt Vonnegut book I'd not heard of or read titled Bluebeard, and the key passage describes one character's assessment of the kinds of people that are needed in order to open up people's minds to new ideas and get them to actually consider embracing change.  Rather than simply 'smart people, 'influential people' or 'powerful people', Vonnegut offers up just a bit more detail of the skills, background, and capabilities of the three critical kinds of people needed to drive change.

    Simply put, it breaks down like this:

    First - You need a true, or authentic genius. This is someone capable of generating original ideas that have not been considered previously. This is, perhaps not surprisingly, the hardest person to find.

    Second - A member of the community or organization, who is respected and has some authority (either directly via position, or indirectly via more subtle and social means), such that he or she can validate, defend, and promote the possibly crazy geniuses ideas. This person makes the genius seem less scary, and begins to create an environment where it is safe for others to signal approval or agreement with the idea or proposal for change.

    Third - The technician or implementer. This person has to have expertise in the specific technical, operational, or procedural area of the change, and the respect of the front-line people in that discipline whose live and jobs will be most impacted by the change. The technician needs to be able to translate the genius' plan and vocabulary into concepts and language that the organization can understand, and feels more comfortable with. 

    And that's it.

    Genius --> Respected advocate --> Technician.

    It is pretty easy to see where the absence of any of these critical roles would derail any substantial change in an entrenched organization of any kind.

    Without the genius and his/her ideas, well all you have are potentially incremental and insignificant changes to existing processes and products. You know, like the 'New and Improved!' laundry detergent that is simply the same old formula in a slightly larger jug.

    Without the respected advocate, the genius' ideas are not likely to get enough or lasting traction with what is almost always a skeptical and scared organization. The genius remains safely marginalized as a nut.

    And without the technician you lose in a couple of areas. You might not be able to effectively take what are often abstract genius ideas and make them actionable. Plus, the true front-line people in the organization might not now the genius and might not think the respected advocate really understands their jobs and processes enough to tell them how they should be changed. The technician bridges the gap between idea and execution.

    Genius --> Respected advocate --> Technician.

    A pretty simple formula for building a team that can actually conceive and convince people to change.

    And according to Vonnegut anyway, it's the only way to have any chance of actually pulling it off.



    On teamwork and a busted out tooth

    With the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament underway I wanted to share a little story from the world of college basketball before I come back to my senses and realize once again that the college game is inferior in every way to 'real' basketball, i.e. the NBA.

    A week or so ago, during the West Coast Conference's post-season tournament, the team from Saint Mary's University found itself in a tough game versus conference rival San Diego. Late in the game during a scrum for possession of the ball, San Diego big man Jito Kok managed to separate Saint Mary's forward Brad Waldow from one of his front teeth.

    Undeterred, and as you can see in the GIF below, Waldow reacted like most tough competitors would, with the knocked-out tooth in hand he proceeded to head over to the bench to find someone to relieve him of said chiclet so he could continue playing in the still undecided game. But take a look at what happened as Waldow looks to the sideline for some help with the tooth:

    Thanks - Business Insider

    Did you catch what happened as Waldow approached the bench and looked for someone to take the tooth from him?

    First Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett leans back in a 'no 'effin way I am taking the tooth' manner, and delegates down the bench to his assistant. The first assistant coach then coolly points to the next assistant down the line. And once that assistant refused to help a brother out, Waldow just tossed the tooth on the floor in order to head back into the contest.

    Waldow, the player, the guy out there on the front lines taking shots to the mouth, loosing teeth, bleeding all over the place couldn't get any of the suits on the bench, the organization's 'leaders' to give him an (admittedly gross) hand when he needed it. And all Waldow wanted to do was to continue playing, to keep putting it on the line for the team.

    Sure, the natural reaction just about anyone would have in that kind of a circumstance would be similar to the Saint Mary's coaches - I mean, who the heck wants a handful of someone's bloody, busted-out tooth?

    But their reaction is also instructive I think, because when their player was in need, no one stepped up to help, they let their first reaction overcome their roles as leaders. They ask players like Waldow to make all kinds of sacrifices in the name of the team. It would not have killed one of them to make a little bit of a sacrifice themselves and help him out when he needed it.

    This may be a goofy, insignificant example but I think it serves as a good reminder for any of us that have a leadership position. We ask the people we are leading to give up things all the time. 

    What are we prepared to give up for them?

    Have a great weekend!