Read an Excerpt
Everything I Know About Teamwork I Learned at Carnegie Hall
“Dad, we’re gonna sing at Carnegie Hall!”
So bellowed my sixteen-year-old son, John, as he ran down the hall of our California home. An eleventh grader, John was a member of his high-school choir. They had previously submitted an audition tape to join a five-hundred-voice all-American high-school honors choir, and John had just learned that they had been accepted.
Most folks I know have heard of Carnegie Hall. Few have ever been there.
When I walked through the doors on that cold winter night in March, I made two discoveries. One, Carnegie Hall is not as big as I had imagined. Don’t get me wrong, it’s big–a couple thousand seats at least. But to a guy who has attended too many concerts in arenas and stadiums, it seemed almost small.
Two, the Carnegie Hall stage doesn’t have a curtain. All onstage activity comes and goes through a set of double doors on the right side of the stage. I’m guessing it has something to do with the hall’s acoustic perfection, but there is no big, heavy, velvet curtain like you’d expect. This is not a problem aesthetically, except that, between acts, what would be considered backstage movement is in full view.
The high-school choir was the main attraction, but obviously it needed an opening act. And who better to open for the five-hundred-voice all-American high-school honors choir than the five-hundred-voice all-American elementary-school honors choir?
That’s right, five hundred eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds marched onto the stage and proceeded tosing their set. I saw proud parents beaming from every seat in the hall. Many people wept as the children sang (I’ll let you determine why their singing would reduce an adult to tears), and I quickly decided that this concert could not fail.
Everyone in the hall was related to one of the performers.
The elementary-school choir performed its last piece, received well-deserved applause, and marched off the stage.
Now for the good part, I thought and smiled. The high schoolers.
Not yet. After the first choir was completely offstage, two very tiny children strolled onstage with the smallest violins I had ever seen. Their instruments looked like knickknacks you might display on your coffee table back home. Nonetheless, these two talented mini-people played a beautiful classical piece to the delight of several thousand ears. The applause was deafening as they wandered offstage, their little violins in tow.
The time had finally arrived. The double doors opened wide, and out of them came five hundred beautiful teenagers. The young ladies wore formal gowns, the young men tuxedos. I craned my neck like a giraffe and looked for John. But as student after student glided onstage, I could not find my son. The first row was in place, but no John. The second row, no John. As the third row assembled, I realized what was happening. The choir was lining up front row to back row, shortest to tallest.
John is six feet four inches tall.
“Oh no,” I groaned. Most certainly, John would be sentenced to the back row.
Sure enough, after approximately 483 people walked on stage, John appeared at the double doors. My chest swelled with pride, but I was still disappointed that he was in the back row. This isn’t at all how I imagined it, I thought. It was gonna be John up front. John with his 499 backup singers. Johnny and the Pips, live at Carnegie Hall.
It was at that moment my disappointment turned into joy. As John took his place on the back row, he happened to be dead center. A spotlight shone on him alone, lighting him up like a Roman candle. No one else looked like he looked, at least to me. He had an angelic glow, a halo, like in one of those Renaissance paintings of Jesus.
The choir was now in place. The double doors were closed in anticipation of the conductor’s appearance. The excitement was palpable. All eyes were on the double doors. But they did not open. “Where’s the conductor?” parents whispered to one another. “What are we waiting for?”
The wait seemed interminable. Even the choir was getting restless. After what seemed like an hour, the double doors opened to show us a middle-aged man in his best blue suit.
As he walked onstage, we could not keep our enthusiasm to ourselves.
We applauded like there was no tomorrow.
We applauded so wildly we had to stand to accurately show our appreciation for this unforgettable moment.
So amid this thunderous standing ovation, imagine our surprise when we discovered that the man strolling toward center stage was not the conductor.
He was a stagehand.
The two little violinists had neglected to take their music stand with them when they finished their number, so we were wildly applauding the Carnegie Hall stagehand! He picked up the stand, walked back offstage, and the double doors closed once again.
Almost immediately, however, the double doors reopened, and a handsome man in white tie and tails proudly marched to the center of the stage. This time it was the conductor, but he was greeted with lukewarm applause. We had given it all up for the stagehand, so we didn’t have much left.
I was immediately struck with the thought, When was the last time I was at a concert where we gave the stagehand a standing ovation? Clearly he was important to the evening’s festivities. The concert could not proceed without his clearing the stage. He was every bit as vital in his way as the conductor. But in our world, we tend to applaud only the conductor, only the quarterback, only the CEO, forgetting all the other people responsible for a team’s success. Examples from business abound. Even the design of an organizational chart, though necessary for efficient business practices, states, or at least implies, that there is a pecking order in the company. Those higher up the ladder are more important than those on the lower rungs.
As the concert unfolded, I knew I was observing something special. Beyond the obvious pride of seeing my son’s performance, I knew I was also witnessing teamwork in action. Every person on that stage was making a contribution; each one was necessary for the complete success of the team.
This book explores the many ways you can maximize your own team’s effectiveness. We’ll talk about team leaders and team members, new teams and old teams, big teams and small teams. We’ll talk about your relationships within your business team and the responsibilities your team places on you. My contention is that whether you’re a CEO or a personal assistant, the sooner you realize you are a critical member of a dynamic working team, the more efficient you will be.
I will explain how you can determine the needs of your teammates, overcome the barriers to teamwork, and recognize the great traits of effective teams. Throughout the book, you will find helpful Team Tips to reflect upon, as well as questions and exercises that will help you put the book’s lessons into practice.
I wrote this to be read during a short plane ride, to jump-start your thinking. Be warned: although it’s a quick read, it just might change for good the way you view teamwork and your position as a team member. Yet I believe that if you practice these truths, you will learn how to increase your effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of all those around you.
And then there’s no telling what you’ll be able to accomplish.
The Three Great Needs of Team Members
Before you can focus your attention on increasing the effectiveness of your team, you need to examine what each member brings to the mix. Besides a laundry list of strengths, gifts, and skills, every human being on your team brings with him or her a set of needs. The beauty of successful teamwork is that it not only accomplishes the overall goals and objectives of the team, but it also helps meet the individual needs of each teammate.
So what are some of the needs a team member might bring to the table?
Psychologists from many different schools of thought seem to agree when it comes to the basic needs of individuals. Some add a few more items to the list, but most include the three I’ll discuss in this chapter: a sense of belonging, a sense of worth, and a sense of competence.
THE NEED TO BELONG
For some of us, our earliest recollections of teamwork are from neighborhood games. Whether our groups gathered at a field, in a back alley, or in a sandlot, the ritual of choosing sides to play a game is an almost universal experience.
Since I was an overly large child growing up, I have mostly painful memories of this experience. Stated simply, because I was fat, I was almost always the last kid chosen to play ball. The exception was during football season, when the coaches or other players saw the value in having some extra tonnage on the offensive line. I can even remember being chosen first a time or two. My strategy was simple: hike the ball and roll over. I never failed to stop the defense in their tracks, leaving my team open to score at will!
But the rest of the year was dominated by basketball and baseball. The only way a big boy is desirable in baseball is if he can knock the cover off the ball. Regrettably, my extra weight slowed down my swing so significantly that I rarely got a chance to make direct contact with the ball. (Actually I had a good hit once. I started swinging at the first pitch and solidly connected with the second.)
We all know that kids can be cruel to one another, and this was certainly true during my childhood. When choosing sides, not only was I usually last, but I was forced to endure a horrible scene that went something like this:
“Okay, there are only two guys left, so I’ll pick Mark,” one of the captains would say.
“That means you have Billy.”
“I didn’t pick him,” the other captain would retort.
“I know. But he’s the last one, so you have to take him.”
“I don’t want him.”
“You have to take him.”
“Who says I have to take him?”
“You have to take him ’cause it’s your pick, and he’s the last kid.”
“But I don’t want him.”
This would go on for several minutes until the protesting captain would grudgingly take me, muttering something under his breath about how the only thing I was good for was playing backstop.
Can you feel my pain? I just wanted to be part of the team– any team.
A wonderful group of individuals make up your team, and they all have something in common: an innate yearning to belong. Some are more in touch with this feeling than others, but we all possess it.
This longing can explain why, as adults, when we look back on our youth and point out our most treasured memories, many of us gravitate toward experiences we shared with others. Just the other day a friend of mine was looking back fondly on his high-school days. An exceptional athlete, he recalled winning an individual cross-country event, as well as the year his football team won the division championship. Which was the greater memory for my friend? “No question about it–the football championship,” he told me.
Why? “Because it was a team effort.”
The football team, the marching band, the science club–all are group activities that are built around the concept of belonging.
I recently made a presentation on teamwork to a group of middle managers in Miami, Florida. After the session, a woman in her early forties approached the platform to speak with me. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and then she got right to it. “Your speech caused a light bulb to go off in my brain this morning,” she chuckled.
“What did I say that caused that response?” I inquired.
“For the first time in all the years I’ve been working with this company, I realized why I love working here.”
“Because it feels like family,” she said with a warm smile on her face. “I have a wonderful husband and kids at home–don’t get me wrong. But I love the people I work with. My job is more than a place to pick up a paycheck. We look out for each other, and it creates an atmosphere that feels like family. We all belong.”
THE NEED TO FEEL WORTHY
I have a friend who travels around the country speaking on issues of self-worth. I love one of his maxims, not only because it rings true, but also because it’s practically poetic.
“How would I describe life at its best?” he asks his audience. “I would answer that question in this manner: nothing to lose, nothing to prove, nothing to hide.”
Isn’t that great? That’s what a sense of worth provides. I can go for it; I have nothing to lose. Risk taking is a sign of a person with a strong sense of positive self-worth. Taking risks says, “I am secure enough in who I am that I can make bold moves without losing my self-confidence.” It says, “If I fail, I will just pick myself up and try it again a different way!”
A risktaker thinks like this. He’s secure enough in who he is, so there’s no need to prove himself to anyone. She doesn’t base her self-worth on how others view her. He doesn’t need approval to feel worth within himself. It doesn’t hurt if you like her, but it is not the basis of her self-image.
A person with nothing to prove is the quintessential team player.
Imagine your life were an open book–with no secrets buried away on some dusty shelf. Most of us can only imagine how freeing this type of life must be. A life without secrets? That sounds too good to be true! But it is possible. It is attainable. It requires gut-wrenching honesty, but the payoff is huge. A team made up of vulnerable, transparent individuals is a uniquely effective team indeed.
If you create an environment of open, honest communication, your team will grow together. And a team that is growing together is a team that feels good about themselves. Effective teams stimulate healthy self-worth.
Mitchell knows the value of this concept. He told me recently, “I was very guarded at my workplace. I didn’t want anyone knowing what was going on in my world. I operated on a ‘need to know basis’ with just about everyone in the company. Fortunately, that all changed.”
“What prompted the change?” I asked.
“Actually, it was my performance review by my superior,” he replied. “I scored high on most of the scales, but he rated me low on open communication. As we talked, I began to see that, naturally, some areas of my personal life are off limits, but overall I could be much more open in my communication style. I started sharing a bit more with my co-workers and made the most wonderful discovery–they really care about me! It feels so good not having secrets and restrictions that hold me back from being all I can be.”
From the Trade Paperback edition.