They were dubbed "The Redeemed Team" – the 2008 US Olympic Basketball team. For decades, without NBA players, the US dominated Olympic basketball. After the defeat in 2004, new coaches and players were picked, and all were asked to make a three year commitment to the team. The plan was for the team to practice together this time, creating a team rather than a collection of star individuals.
The "lesson", of course, smacks us on the head. A piece in Slate argues that all this was hype, that the Olympians was just spinning a story to make them appear to be humble, patriotic, and committed to Olympic ideals. Maybe there was some spinning here – or maybe there is truth here as well. Maybe talking about patriotism and team enough takes hold in their behavior. By the accounts that I read (and I am not a sports aficionado), this year’s team played and acted as a team. The outcome was the gold medal in decisive victories.
People have become so cynical that when someone behaves in ways we would like people to behave – and how we would like to behave- we don’t believe it. But to function in the world, we do need to place trust in other people. In our business, we must do this – if employees feel that they aren’t trusted, they will earn that distrust. Checks and balances are one thing – active distrust is another.
I don’t get hung up about telling employees that they are part of a "team", that "there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’" and other mantras. I would spend more time with the seemingly little things – thanking people, treating them with respect on a daily basis, talking with them about what is going on with the business and seeking out ideas, and so on. That’s how you build a team. In the case of the basketball team, the coaches had them practice together each summer for three years before the games, breaking down the barriers around the individuals so that they would play well together. Teams can have stars, but they also recognize all of the players.