By Tom Davidson
There’s nothing quite like a mobilizing goal to get the best out of teams and teamwork.
When bad weather threatens, our Virginia Department of Transportation is well prepared, and everyone knows their jobs. When hurricanes are tracking up the east coast, our power companies collaborate with others up and down the Atlantic Coast and deep into the Midwest to stage trucks and crews in strategic locations. When forest fires threaten lives and homes, all parts of the forestry community are focused and resourceful in getting the firefighters on the line what they need.
Our First Experiences with Teams
Many of our first experiences with teams and teamwork were choosing sides for baseball, dodge ball, or capture the flag. It was fascinating how quickly a group of ragtag kids, sometimes strangers on the playground, could bond when they had a shared competitive threat.
Later, in Boy Scouts, my patrol learned faster and worked harder when we were in competition with another patrol or troop, like the Klondike Derby. Our usual silly and distracted behaviors tended to focus on working together when we had a common adversary to beat. Scout leaders took advantage of this by turning knot tying, first aid, and animal tracking into contests!
Even later, as a volunteer firefighter in rural Virginia, I found the same phenomenon to be the case. When there were no fires to fight, our members were undependable for drills, late to meetings, and slack when pulling routine maintenance duties. But when we had a fully involved structure fire to contend with, these same people turned into the most amazing, coordinated, and focused ballet.
I’m worried about the state of our Nation right now, as we don’t have single a mobilizing goal even though we have many existential threats. We have a collection of competing agendas and priorities, people who attack each other personally for having different opinions, and entrenched political theater that serves to divide us rather than unite us.
Your Number One Priority in Teamwork
Unfortunately, this could also be a description of your team or organization if you don’t have a mobilizing goal. If you do nothing else for the teamwork of your group, clarify exactly what is your reason for being together, and then find a powerful and mobilizing goal to get them pulling in the same direction.
Without an emergency or a common enemy, your team is likely to flounder and fuss, but with a clear and present danger or competitive threat, they just might be the ballet you know they can be.
It’s the nature of teamwork, and it’s the nature of leadership.