The summer of 1992 marked the first time the United States would present a basketball team to the Olympics composed of current players from the National Basketball Association (NBA). Players selected for the team consisted of superstars Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippen, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Charles Barkley, to name a few. At the time, they were referred to as the greatest sporting team ever assembled and would earn the renowned nickname, “Dream Team” from Sports Illustrated.
The Dream Team was so stacked, even the coaching staff to support them had star talent and depth. For example, Mike Krzyzewski was just one of three assistant coaches.
The 1992 Dream Team easily lived up to their hype, scoring over 100 points in every game and winning each match by an average of 43.8 points. They were so dominating that their closest game was a 117-85 victory over Croatia. The team completed the dream by winning the gold medal. A Dream Team, they were!
Fast forward, to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. The USA men’s basketball team was again a roster full of talent. Just a few of the stars on the roster were: Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
This USA team would lose its very first game of the Olympic tournament to Puerto Rico by a margin of 19 points. It was the most lopsided loss for a USA basketball team in the history of International play. The U.S. team would rebound though to win a couple of close matches, but would soon find their way back to defeat, losing to Lithuania and later to Argentina.
Their three match losses were more than all the losses combined from all Olympics prior to 2004. Additionally, their failure to take home the gold marked only the third time in all of history an American basketball team would not win gold in an Olympics, and the first occasion where a U.S. team composed of professionals would fail to capture the gold medal.
The 2004 team’s performance highlights a couple things applicable to all of us who work with teams, not just those in the sporting arena. First, individual talent is not enough to achieve team success. Second, it takes much more to make history than a team just having technical expertise.
My experience over the last quarter century interacting with teams, and the past year overseas working with a dream team against daunting odds has me convinced the following 7 essentials are vital for a team looking to have their dreams realized:
- Leadership. Both within and outside the team. A leader within the team should be an individual of character and one who models expected behavior. This leader serves to motivate, challenge and draw out the best in others. Additionally, this leader ensures an operating environment where each team member is valued and has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Leadership from outside the team is also a must. It’s not intended to micromanage the team but rather to serve the team, coach and mentor when appropriate. Don’t fall for the fallacy of thinking a team of superstars doesn’t require some coaching or mentoring. You’ll be taking unnecessary risk which could have your team falling short of their potential.
“A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not.” John Quincy Adams
- Talent: If you’re forming a dream team, you’ve certainly got to select technically gifted team members. Talented individuals not only bring technical expertise to the team, but they also contribute passion, strong work ethic, and strive for peak performance in the pursuit of excellence. The caution when selecting technically gifted team members is not to compromise attitude, behavior or character for talent. A compromise of any one of these can rot the team from the inside out.
- Purpose: It’s imperative every team member understands their role, why they perform the tasks they do and how that ties to a larger purpose (something greater than one’s self). This understanding influences team members’ level of investment. Additionally, this unity of purpose avoids duplication of effort and prevents well-intentioned team members from pulling the team’s effort in multiple directions. The caution here is to watch for the individual more focused on self than mission.
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” Mahatma Gandhi
- Communication: Good communication is key to success of any team, but critical for teams trying to make dreams come true. Impactful team members are able to interact well with others. They are receptive to feedback, open to others’ ideas and have the ability to communicate effectively and respectfully when conflict arises. Another aspect of team communication, and likely the most undervalued, is listening. Intent-full listening demonstrates sincerity, respect and acceptance. But watch out for those who over-communicate; those who appear to be the “know it all.” There’s nothing more deflating to a team than to have a team member who has all the answers.
- Mutual Support: Also known as teamwork but on a larger scale. It goes beyond just working well together. It’s about team members contributing in a way that compliments the work of others; respecting relationships and valuing the thoughts or inputs of all team members. Mutual support is also realized by team members considering the effect of their actions on other team members before taking action and realizing success is a team sport. My recent year-long tour in Afghanistan, working with NATO partners from 15 nations reinforced for me that mutual support was not only beneficial but vital to building a professional, sustainable and full-independent Air Force for Afghanistan—a humongous task. Finally, mutual support is about teammates encouraging one another, through successes and failures. When selecting team members, choose individuals focused on “we” instead of “me”.
- Character: Integrity, loyalty, ethical behavior and trust are all essential character traits for dream team members. Character often reveals what an individual values, or doesn’t value. Why is this so important? The impact of an individual’s character can go far beyond just the team. It can affect the organization and its reputation. As a military service member I’m constantly reminded of this. My “U.S. Air Force” name tape reminds me that my actions reflect not only on me and my unit, but also the Air Force and United States. So be careful to select team members of sound character to not only add class to the team but to also prevent potential negative public relations.
- Attitude: This is a game changer! Attitude can be a source of fuel for the team or it can be a cancer that destroys it. I’ve seen first-hand how negative team members cause dissention within the team and influence others into becoming negative. None of it is healthy. On the contrary, I was blessed to be part of a team where our leader was a source of positivity. He consistently encouraged others and highlighted the positive. So much so, his positive attitude would propel us through some challenging situations and bring calm to tense engagements.
“Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Mark Twain
These 7 essentials are the difference between a team of talent and a Dream Team. The next time your building your team, use these essentials as your guide and watch dreams come true!