a collection of individuals
THERE’S ONLY “I” IN TEAM
carry the same message and behave in
the same way as the head honcho.
Problems usually occur when there’s a
disconnect between these influential
people, and the messages start to conflict.
Adam Smith (an 18th century Scot who
kind of invented economics) postulated that
humans are driven by self interest, and I
agree. But the best teams are able to align
those personal interests with team interest.
Take fear, for example. Some pressure to
perform, which comes naturally in racing, is
good; it keeps the mind sharp and alert. But
fear of losing your job at every juncture
chokes a team. Everyone goes into survival
mode, becomes more concerned about
looking good at every opportunity; the team
is no longer the primary concern, survival is...
This next one seems obvious, but
maybe it isn’t? A clear understanding by
each individual of how their personal
contribution will affect a team and, similarly,
understanding what everyone else is doing
can totally affect team performance. It needs
to be clear to all: Where are we going? What
are we doing? How and when are we doing
it? And who’s doing what? Forget slogans
and speeches, it’s day-to-day, face-to-face
conversations and actions that count.
Like in the military (I think), the chain of
command has to be clearly defined, with
clarity on who makes which decision. In
contrast to a top-down organization, where
orders roll down the chain, the best race
teams give room and a clear understanding
of when and how individuals can contribute
with their own ideas. It should be clear
when it’s the time to chat and brainstorm,
and when it’s time for heads-down action.
Yes, you must document things carefully,
but the real knowledge and know-how of a
team is usually contained within a few
members, the “elders.” Lose them and it’s
a completely different organization:
accumulated knowledge and processes are
gone; continuity and learning suffer, and
performance suffers. Overlap the careers
of brilliant elders, let them groom younger
members, and a team continues to evolve.
Race teams suffer from the same issues
that every leading edge company has:
Where’s the next big idea coming from and
who’s generating it? A brilliant individual? A
group effort? Where’s that touch of genius?
There’s no easy answer. I’ve seen
success massively influenced by a single
individual, and by well-tuned teams of
people. Picking one thing which I believe is
a critical common factor in all successful,
creative initiatives, I’d say it’s understanding
the problem. You can’t come up with a
cool solution if you don’t have the clear
understanding of what you’re trying to solve.
I promise I’ll stop soon...
At the end of the day, it’s simple: if every
“I” is performing at a high level, you’re good.
Respect, motivation, engagement, attitude
and energy is what counts on an individual
level. If you don’t have these, it’s no go. But
if you do have them throughout the team
at a high level, you’re off to the races. Or,
better still, off to drink some of that creamy,
non-alcoholic beverage they serve at a
certain Midwestern town on Memorial Day.
And if you’re wondering, it’s served cold.
“Every good race
team I’ve ever
come across has a
says Gil de Ferran.
Driving for Roger
Penske for four
years in CART and
the IndyCar Series
(RIGHT), he got
to observe one of
the best in the
business up close.