The Six Elements of “Team”

Everyone knows that “team” is important. Every venture capitalist will tell you “we invest in teams.” We all seek to hire “team players” and to “be on the same team.” Search Google for ‘”the importance of team’ (intentional open quote to capture ‘teamwork’ for example) and you’ll get 477,000,000 hits – 477 million!

“Team” is an essential element of success. But what is team exactly? What are the elements of team?

rugby scrum team
The 2013 All Blacks most experienced team in their history with the most well-drilled front row in world rugby.


Most all of us have been a member of one team or another. Teams are built from selected components. Think of any sports team. Each member of the team is selected for specific capabilities. In rugby, the forward positions are selected for size and strength, and within the ranks of the forwards, the second row is selected for height and leaping ability while the props are selected for their ability to serve as pillars crossed with plow horses who have the frame and strength to support their teammates while driving forward against the opposition.

In business we build teams of technologists, marketing specialists, financial managers, sales people, and so on. But selecting individuals for their fundamental characteristics or skills does not in and of itself make a team.

Duke Basketball coach Mike KrzyzewskiConsider Coach Krzyzewski of Duke University, the winningest coach in Division 1 college basketball history with over 1,000 wins. Coach K is known for his tremendous success in building teams out of individuals.

At Leadercast 2013, Coach K. spoke of his fist analogy: any one fist can defeat any one finger. In other words, a team can always defeat an individual. For this reason, individual goals only work if they fit within the goals of the team.

Only a group-mentality can harness the characteristics or skills of the individual finger into the fist of a team.

Duke University has another 1st-in-the-nation institution based on teamwork, and that’s it’s Fuqua School of Business. Bloomberg Businessweek rated Fuqua as the number one full-time business school in the nation for 2014. According to Businessweek:

“Fuqua students got high marks from recruiters, particularly those from companies that hire large numbers of MBAs, and these were given additional weight in the ranking. In our survey, recruiters noted that Fuqua students are exceptionally good at working collaboratively.”

Fuqua's Dean, Bill BouldingWhen Fuqua’s Dean Bill Boulding talks about the reasons he believes Fuqua has climbed to number he refers to what former dean, Thomas F. Keller, dubbed “Team Fuqua” – the collaborative approach of Fuqua’s faculty and students. “Team Fuqua” made a significant impact on me when I studied there, and its those same principles as defined by the Fuqua student body that I have found to be so powerful in my own business experiences, and what I seek to find or build in all the companies I work with.

The six elements of team:

  1. Authentic EngagementTeam members care and do (authenticity and engagement). They make a difference to the company by being themselves and engaging in the things they are passionate about. “Doing” and “caring” go hand in hand and are the fundamental building blocks of team function. Each team member must not only care about his or her role, position, and contribution to the team, but engage and do – execute with passion to deliver on his or her part.

  2. Supportive AmbitionTeam members support each other to achieve great things, because “your” success is “my” success. The success of each individual member of the company makes the whole of the company better. The basketball center has to put the ball through the hoop – and it takes the guards to make it happen. When each team member takes the extra measure to ensure that all other team members are able to operate at their peak, the company benefits far more than when individuals play their own game.
  3. Collective DiversityTeam members embrace all of their teammates because each member’s individuality is made better and stronger when exercised together.
    Perhaps the most difficult to master because differences don’t always feel good. It takes a true team member to recognize that it’s the differences that make the group a team. Center and guard. Marketing and engineering. ENTJ and ISFP. Each needs the other – and conflicts are inherent in their differences. A team recognizes that conflict is an expression of the value of collective diversity at play and embraces the conflict to make the individuals better and stronger together.
  4. Impactful StewardshipTeam members are leaders who focus on solutions to improve the company both now and in the future. This is really important yet hard to do. Transparency is a big part of this in my experience – the transparency of management’s objectives and the reality of the business for all members of the team. When everyone has the end in mind, the clarity of present is greatly improved and team members are able to execute now and for the future.
  5. Loyal CommunityMembers are a team of individuals who look out for each other as a group. The team has got each members’ back when needed most. Loyal Community gives the team members the freedom to know that if anything goes wrong, on or off the court, the team will rally to the individuals’ need. Why? Because Supportive Ambition and Collective Diversity demand it
  6. Uncompromising IntegrityTeam members conduct themselves with integrity within the company, the business community, and in their individual lives. Insanely important. Coach K. advises that trust is the most powerful element in team building. “Trust is a confident belief in your team, a person in your life, or a member of your family. Essentially, it means, “I have your back.” I have yours and I believe that you have mine. Trust builds confidence, and with confidence, you and your team have a much greater chance of achieving at a high level.” If one of your team members does not conduct his or herself with integrity, where does your trust go? How can you function as a team?
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