BLUF – High performance teams and teammates have the ability to quickly adapt between assigned and unassigned roles because they are focused on the team win, not individual performance or workload.
Steph Curry, 14 Rebounds in one game (win). Aaron Rodgers, 35 rushing yards in one play (win). Daigo the Beast, 15 parries against a Chun-Li super art (win). All of these are stat lines you wouldn’t necessarily track based on the player’s role within their respective team (ok, Daigo isn’t on a team, but it’s still a badass and unorthodox performance none the less). Yet in every instance the most important stat is the last one mentioned: WIN.
Team roles can be tricky, but we can learn a lot from both traditional and electronic sports teams that are successful. In basketball and football, players are assigned formal roles such as Quarterback, Point Guard, Defensive Tackle, Center, etc. These roles assign a set of expected roles for the player to execute within the offensive, defensive, or special teams they are assigned to. Executing your expected role is highly important, because the other team is trying to drive and exploit mismatches that favor their teammate. That’s the basis for the “pick and roll” play: use movement to quickly swap defensive assignments and move the ball to the player with the advantage to score. When this happens during a game, the defensive player in the disadvantage position doesn’t have time to swap back. Curry can’t say “Whoa, timeout! I’m a point guard, and it’s not my job to guard LeBron who is a forward, so we need to start over!” The play moves on and Curry stays on his defensive assignment to the best of his ability.
The point I’m making this week is that while assigning and fulfilling team roles have a purpose, the hallmark of great teams are those teammates who work hard outside of these assigned roles because they are focused on winning. They aren’t afraid of additional or uncommon work because they don’t carry a selfish motive. An “all hands on deck” approach is used because everyone is focused on the team win, not the individual performance. By minimizing internal friction, a team can be positioned to handle any challenge by staying united towards the common goal. If a team is constantly playing “hot potato” with work, a timeout needs to be called to figure out why this is happening. Is it a misunderstanding of who has the primary assignment for the work? If you are the primary, do you have enough resources or expertise to handle the work? Could resources be shifted within the team in order to cover down on the work? A team that is positively functioning can adjust team composition on the fly with minimal effort. They also don’t need the coach to facilitate the adjustment; it will just happen because everyone is knows the win is most important.
A parallel yet important note is that the backup players on successful teams will often mirror what the starters are doing. If the starters demonstrate high levels of unselfishness, the players on the bench should mirror the same. Backup layers that don’t carry this mentality are mentored by the starters until they fall in line accordingly. The same relationship can be applied to junior enlisted and officers that are looking up to their chain of command, which often times in a squadron are the Flight Commander and Superintendent positions. If these “starter” team roles aren’t in sync with each other and start to bicker over “that’s not my job”, a negative trickle-down effect can happen where a poor example is being set for the “backup” players. This situation needs to be settled as quickly as possible, and the most effective method is for the starters to work the problem out themselves. This requires a level of humility and character that is uncommon, yet should be something everyone strives towards. Take a look at the Warriors. Coach Kerr provides the expectations for the entire team, but a starter like Kevin Durant is the one who publicly states despite winning, the team acknowledges they still have room for improvement and everyone is dedicated to making those improvements.
Final take-away this week is that unselfish players are the building blocks for overall team success. Overcoming selfish tendencies is difficult, yet can be achieved with a combination of leadership and self-reflection on what is most important to the team: WINNING. Lastly, this is the clip of Daigo the Beast that is arguably one of the greatest performances of e-sports, for you uncultured types (just kidding):