Great Teamwork Is Storytelling

Who is the most important person on your team?

Is it you?

Businesses tend to look at teams in much the same way fans look at sports teams. They believe that the most important person on the team is that one skilled player who elevates performance beyond the expected and into the extraordinary. Think Simone Biles. Tom Brady. Megan Rapinoe. Lionel Messi. Mike Trout.

Superstars do multiply our efforts. The chance of success with one of these standouts on our team goes up significantly – especially if it’s a project with a fair amount of risk.

Interestingly, though, the simple existence of a superstar doesn’t always make the team better.

And, adding more and more superstars to a team doesn’t necessarily correlate to an increased chance of success. 

In the Moneyball-inspired data crunching era, sports teams now realize this. In addition to individual performance stats, many teams now also measure how superstars elevate a team within the context of the people they’re surrounded by. Put more simply, sports teams have discovered that the most important person on the team may not be the superstar, but someone who helps create a context in which the superstar – and the rest of the team – can succeed.

I often see marketing or content teams being formed based on the answer to the question “Who are the most skilled at X, Y, and Z?” This seems to be the go-to approach when businesses assemble “tiger teams” or “innovation teams” in a focused sprint to get to an answer to a problem. 

Should we be surprised that research has found that up to 90% of these innovation efforts fail?   

The answer to that question might be, “no”. And at least one of the opportunities we have to fix it, might be realizing the most important part of our team isn’t adding more skills, but in making sure we are building the most “team-like” team.

Research on the effectiveness of business-oriented teams has found that the highest performing teams are those with effective interactions – and that people who enable team-level cognition (e.g. decision making, planning, and problem-solving) are the real keys to performance. 

In other words – the best teams succeed because someone (or some people) understand the needs of their members and can deliver the most powerful message to the right team member at the right time. 

Sound familiar?

We’ve probably all been part of classically bad teams. You know, the kind where one person bulldozes into the lead. A few members sit at the conference room table and feel like their ideas are unwelcome. Others agree to go forward based on the cult of personality of that leader. 

Skilled or unskilled in a particular challenge, our most valuable contribution to a team tasked at solving a challenge may be in our ability to translate the ideas, skills, lessons, and persuasion into the consciousness of the team. 

Teams are best nurtured when great ideas are transplanted from the mind where they took root into the rich soil of others’ imaginations. Storytellers, then, are most valuable to the team – for they are the best gardeners.       

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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