Teamwork: The Difference Between Brady and Belichick

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


I've always had this suspicion of the 'rah rah' corporate team thing. You know: "Let's all build a great team together." "We all have to play our part as team members." That sort of stuff. And contrary to much advice and many exasperated sighs, I don't care much for corporate team building exercises. They just seem phony and patronizing to me. I mean, if people don't like or respect one another at work, how is a hike in the woods or a half day facilitor going to fix that? (The best 'teaming' experience I ever had occurred at a retreat years ago with the client, consultants and builders. After a day of reasonably useless and quickly forgotten exercises, it turned out that the lawyer guy had only gone to law school because he didn't know what to do with his music degree and the law school happened to be next door to the music faculty. At least that was his story and he was a great guy. Turned out he could play anything. So we stayed up until about three am, drank too much wine, and called out every song we could think of until we couldn't see straight. I'm not sure if we built a team, but it was a blast. Sometimes, good stuff just happens.)

I'm slowly figuring out my problems with the whole issue. That person standing the front of the room preaching about teamwork and togetherness? If you're not doing your job, that person will move you out. That person is not your teammate, that person is your boss, and they have clear and serious responsibilities that may well conflict with their 'oneness' with you. Everyone can be on the same page with respect to collective purpose and goals, and everyone can be clear about individual accountabilities and required contribution, but there is a hierarchy, there is a boss, in fact there is often a hierarchy of bosses. I was thinking about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Tom Brady may be a 'leader', but he can't hire or fire the wide receiver or anyone else. He's one of the players, he's on the team. Bill Belichick can and will fire that wide receiver, he is the boss, and if he makes a speech about how they are all in this together, everyone knows that he's lying. Either that or he has compromised his leadership role (and is no longer doing his job).

The other problem is that a complete dedication 'the team' means compromising your individuality, your own personal purpose, and no ambitious and dynamic person wants to do this. I sure as hell wouldn't. Everyone understands collective purpose and the need to work effectively with others, but one of the primary human needs is the search for individual meaning in our lives. The organizations that can deliver this individual meaning, especially as part of a broader worthwhile effort, will prosper. The ones that smother it will die.

Perhaps a unified team isn't the goal, it's the natural result. Assemble - or join - a group of great individual leaders. Ensure everyone shares the same strong (capital 'V') Values, that they respect each other enough to disagree openly and loudly, and that they agree on the worth of the collective purpose while their personal needs and life goals are being met. Accomplish that, and you've got it made, together. The team thing just happens. And if it doesn't just happen, you've got a problem and you have to make changes, you may have to 'Belichik' that talented wide receiver. But there is no chance that some facilitated flip chart paintball wilderness week-end is going to fix the problem.

I also recognize that in espousing these views, I may be a team of exactly one. Anyone for tennis?