What is it that makes a team?

Author Jim Collins, who wrote the business classic “Good to Great,” told us to make sure we had the right people on the bus.

The analogy has become a bit of a cliché in the business world, and leaders and consultants everywhere are talking about getting the right people on the bus and getting the wrong people off the bus.

But here’s the thing.  If you want a great team, what you DON’T want are passengers.  People who get on the bus and are happy to go along while someone else drives.

Who’s putting in?

What you want are participators.  People who each play a role in getting the team or the business where it needs to go.  People whose efforts are integral to the success of the venture, of the project, of the day-to-day.  If they’re not integral, why are they there?

So you don’t want people on your bus.

You want people on your boat.

Everyone pulls together

Imagine a boat with four oars on one side, and four oars on the other.  Eight oars for eight people.  The rowboat is on a river, pushing into the current.  There are rocks behind it.

What will happen if no one pulls on their oars?  The boat will drift downstream, into the rocks.  But when each of the eight member oar-pulling team works together, they keep each other – and the boat – safe, and in the process they move towards their destination.

Do you have enough people manning the oars?  Have they been taught how to row well, and how to row together?

Are they doing it?

Rowing in time

If you’ve ever been in a rowboat, you’ll know that if you only row on one side of the boat, it cannot go straight.

The same happens with a team.  Sometimes a few people aren’t pulling strongly, or at all, and the boat moves off course.  The people who are still rowing will never be able to get the boat in a bee-line towards the destination without everyone rowing in time, and with a similar, balanced amount of effort.

Exhausted rowers

And if you have some people who aren’t rowing, and others rowing way too hard to compensate, and this goes on long enough, then what you end up with is exhaustion.

The hard workers burn out.  The ones who’ve kept the boat moving – your star rowers – just can’t take it anymore.  They either stop rowing and ship their oars out of frustration or because they simply cannot take one more stroke, or else they jump ship, swim to shore, and start looking for another boat.

 Who is at the helm?

At the helm of the boat, guiding it towards the destination is the captain, the leader of the team.  The captain’s role isn’t to row.  The captain’s role is to know what the destination is, share that with the team, and keep his or her eyes on where the team is in relation to that destination.  The leader need to notice who’s rowing and who’s not.  Whose technique needs some help.  Who needs a bit of encouragement, a bit of a nudge, or a rest.

Everyone is important

Leaders, get your team off the bus, and into the boat.  Put an oar in their hands.

And let them row.