None of Us

Nowadays, you scarcely ever hear a star performer discuss the importance of teamwork. Usually, the “celebrity” drones on and on about his greatness, with seldom, if any mention about how others helped his organization’s success.

I assumed this would be the case with Baltimore Orioles’ Baseball Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. This sports legend was chosen to deliver the keynote address to a trucking industry event that I attended.

I was wrong. Robinson’s overall message was: “Winning comes from teamwork; from working together toward the same clear goals - the team goals.” That’s a message more shops ought to heed.

A very accomplished baseball player, Robinson knows a lot about what it takes to win. He played in 18 consecutive All-Star games, holds numerous Major League Baseball (MLB) records and honors and was elected to the league’s All Century Team, which honors the best 25 players in baseball during the 20th Century.

He also knows an abundance about teamwork. Robinson played with the Orioles from his MLB debut in 1955 until he retired as a player in 1977. During that time, the Orioles had the best record in all of baseball.

In his presentation, Robinson noted that in business, as in sports, there are many benefits to be had from teamwork. By members of a team contributing their individual knowledge and skills, the collective whole becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts.

“A team may have a number of super stars,” he said, “but if they don’t work together toward a common vision, they will not be as successful as if all members of the team worked together.”

As I visit shops across the nation, I can “see” the difference a team spirit makes. You can tell rather quickly when shop people are not cooperating with one another or if there is tension or bad feelings. This is not a good situation as poor teamwork can prevent effective final performance and prevent team members from gaining satisfaction in being a member of a team and the organization, keeping this cycle going.

On the other hand, in those shops where everyone is getting along and working well together and toward a common vision, things run smoothly and efficiently, with commendable productivity and results. Consider the acronym TEAM: together everyone achieves more. The more successful maintenance shops have created a culture of teamwork.

According to Robinson, there are some key elements to creating a winning team. Obviously, he said, team members have to be carefully selected for the job they are going to perform.

Then, team members must have a clear understanding of what is to be accomplished, have a solid knowledge of their various duties and responsibilities for making this happen and be dedicated and committed to achieving the team vision.

What’s more, he said, team members need to receive coaching and must be made to feel that they are an integral part of the team.

Companies that have developed a teamwork culture get rid of the us-versus-them type of environment, which is not conducive to business success. Whereas a cohesive team of people who constantly work together continue to improve at what they do.

With increased employee involvement and commitment come reduced conflict and absenteeism, greater creativity and innovation, increased efficiency and productivity, less errors and an organization with better adaptability and flexibility. All of this contributes to an improved bottom line.

When a team works well together there is more collaboration, Robinson pointed out. For the sake of the team, people willingly invest themselves in the team effort and help each other to perform better.

Consider the impact this could have on your operation.

“Regardless of how well a team works together, you can’t win everyday,” said Robinson. “You have to know how to bounce back and to persevere. You have to have confidence in your ability, and you have to maintain a winning attitude.”

Whenever there is a loss, he said it should be analyzed to see what went wrong. “Learn from your experiences so you know how to avoid the same situation the next time. Keep in mind that no defeat is permanent.”

Robinson concluded that in sports, as in business, success comes from hard work and a lot of practice. “Winning is doing better today than you did yesterday.”

That is a message we can all take to heart.

In speaking with Robinson on his way out (and getting his autograph), I asked him if there were certain traits or abilities that made him such a standout baseball player and team member. Without a moment’s hesitation he replied: “I had a passion for the game to the point of obsession.”

That brought to mind something I had heard him say in an interview some time ago that I wrote down and have posted in my office: “If you’re not practicing, somebody else is, somewhere, and he’ll be ready to take your job.”

I welcome your thoughts and comments.