Americans often celebrate individual inventors. But I think that great innovations are more likely to come from a cohesive team. When many individuals cooperate, they amplify the talents of their teammates. Each person contributes specific ideas and specific strengths. Other team members absorb these ideas and add their own concepts which enrich the output. Like a meal with many great flavors, the project becomes a feast of ideas, instead of a single (and possibly wrong) theme.
I have been privileged to work with many amazing and very smart people over many years. They have taught me diverse ways to look at complex problems; and simple ways to break down those complicated problems until the solutions become clear. Projects are really an endless parade of problems: managing that parade requires a professional attitude. Small problems can never be ignored, lest they become giant barriers later.
Some team members are considered “stars” by management. There is usually some basis for this belief as these folks might be smarter or better communicators than others. But I have been repeatedly surprised by fantastic contributions coming from folks in the “other” category. I am not talking about accidental or incidental contributions: I am saying that critical contributions can come from any team member at any time. You need to be prepared and open for differing opinions.
I like the analogy of a large symphony orchestra. There might be one person, sitting way at the back, or off to one side. They sit and do nothing for most of a musical piece. Then suddenly, they play one note, or one small series of notes. Without that addition, the concert makes no sense. But with that contribution, the performance is complete; perfect, and forms the way we remember it forever.
There are nearly infinite sports analogies. One critical play, one critical block or steal or fake, at just the right time turns the outcome of a game or even a whole season. Yes, we remember the big plays, but the little plays were just as important to the outcome.
When management lavishes attention solely on stars or belittles the contributions of others, they are making a terrible mistake. You don’t know in advance where (or from whom) that tiny--but critical--note will come from to complete your masterpiece. Please: stop trying to predict the future and embrace the strengths of every team member.
It has been said that warriors eventually stop fighting for flag or country. Eventually they are simply fighting to survive and to assure the survival of the fellow fighting alongside them.
Companies can be like that too. At some point, you are just fighting to survive and help your teammates survive. You don’t care about bonus payments or company leaders. Their exhortations fall on deaf ears. But you care a lot about the person standing with you.
I have been blessed to stand and fight problems with some spectacular technical wizards. I have also been blessed to work with other folks, who made critical contributions at just the right time. I thank them equally and value them all. They helped make me who I am (and who I am not) today.
Look around you and appreciate your team. One way or another, they are defining who you will become.