“To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”
–Mike Krzyzewsk, Duke Basketball head coach, winner of five NCAA titles
Why did I love basketball? Here’s why: Julius Erving…a.k.a. Dr. J. Considered among basketball historians as the first professional basketball player to defy gravity, Dr. J was something to behold. The grace. The speed. The power. The finesse. The moves demonstrated in the linked clip might seem commonplace among players today, but in the 1970s, they were revolutionary. Dr. J was my hero and I rooted hard for him and his team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
The problem with rooting for the 76ers in the late 70s and early 80s was that in their pursuit of winning the championship each year, they always seemed to run into a stronger team. While Dr. J was undoubtedly the most athletically gifted player on the court, whenever the 76ers faced the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers, they came up short. Why? A simple reason: The opponents had put together squads that worked brilliantly as a team. Sure, each group had individual stars – Magic Johnson (Lakers) and Larry Bird (Celtics) – but what made the difference was how those stars played in concert with the other four players on the floor. The best results came when players’ strengths meshed together to minimize weaknesses. And those teams won. A LOT.
Man, did I hate the Celtics and Lakers. Watching one or the other beat the 76ers each year, whether in the conference finals or championship finals, was utterly frustrating. Most frustrating was the respect I had to give them for the beautiful way they played on both ends of the court. Offensively, they moved the ball around quickly and efficiently in order to ensure they got the best shot, regardless of who took it. Defensively, they moved their feet and rotated to the open man, helping each other out. Both Boston and L.A. epitomized team basketball, and it’s why they were so successful. Their commitment to teamwork left an indelible mark on me.
During a recent conversation with my father, we talked about Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks’ most famous player. While Anthony has put up huge stats as a pro, and made an insane amount of money as a result, his teams have never achieved success. Why? In my opinion, it’s his failure to play team basketball. He appears to only care about his stats, not doing what is necessary to win. It’s probably why I’ve never liked watching him play.
It may seem cliché, but teamwork truly is the key to an organization’s success: multiple pieces working in harmony to achieve a single objective. Sure, there’s satisfaction in accomplishing something on your own, but that pales in comparison to reaching your goal with a group of people who have worked closely together for countless hours. It’s exhilarating to share joy with those who know firsthand the hurdles that have been cleared and the sweat equity that has been invested on a project.
Much like the Celtics and Lakers played to each other’s strengths, so too do successful agencies. When a crisis arises, who should handle the call? The unseasoned account executive on his/her own or the veteran PR pro with support from junior staff? A client is launching a new product and wants to make a splash. Shouldn’t the project lead be someone who’s been through it many times before?
Working collaboratively is also essential to curtailing weaknesses. Colleagues working closely together will quickly realize where they must step in to assist one another, thus, maximizing the firm’s effectiveness.
Not only is building a strong team crucial to an organization’s success, but it is also vital to its culture. If an office is filled with “me” first thinkers, that will permeate throughout the company. If most, if not all employees are thinking “team” first, a selfless culture, whereby colleagues will ask themselves, “How can I support my teammate so that we all grow professionally,” will result. Ultimately, your organization will be steeped in positive employee and client satisfaction.
TEAM – you can’t spell Lambert without it.
Joe DiBenedetto is a senior director at Lambert