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teamTEAM: families, companies, churches, community organizations, government entities. They’re all teams. They all function by using the same five fundamental principles. And they all succeed or fail based on their effectiveness in implementing these 5 S’s of team success into their culture.

1. Script. This is the life blood of every successful team. The ancient Greeks used the word symphone, from which we get the English word symphony, to express our idea of agreement. It literally means making the same sounds or SAYING the same things. It doesn’t necessarily mean BELIEVING the same things. For a team to succeed everyone has to make the same confessions publicly despite what they think, feel, or believe privately. This requires individuals sublimating their belief system for the success of the team. Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant BELIEVED he was the best player on the Lakers’ team during their threepeat in the early 2000s, but when it was time to win in the playoffs he often SAID that Shaquille O’Neal was the one who would lead them to victory. Despite the cacophony that surrounded the team it was their internal symphony, their decision to stick to a common script, that kept them centered and balanced, allowing them to win the ultimate prize in their sport. What script is your team using to produce its unique symphony?
2. System. Every team needs a belief system that organizes everyone and everything in the team’s universe and makes agreement, symphony, possible. In order to say the same things there has to be an established mantra, a communal coda that everyone adopts. This constellation of principles and behaviors must earn everyone’s trust, every team member’s assurance and conviction, that it will produce a specific set of results. This is the team belief system that everyone adopts by sublimating their personal belief system. For the threepeat Lakers that system was the triangle offense. What system is your team using to produce the results it wants?
3. Sacrifice. Some call it “buy-in,” but buy-in suggests immediacy. When we buy something there is usually an immediate exchange of goods and/or services for some sort of currency. Sacrifice is more like an investment. People “offer up” something of value to themselves in the hopes or belief that they will reap a greater reward at some point in the future. Sacrifice first requires that everyone on the team be aware of what they possess that is of value to themselves and others, and what that approximate value is. The threepeat Lakers boasted several players who were featured scorers on their previous teams. But with the Lakers these players sacrificed high scoring averages, and in some instances the contract money that went with being a leading scorer, for the promise of winning a championship. What sacrifices are the people on your team making in order to succeed?
4. Sum<Parts. In successful teams the sum is less than its parts. I know you’ve heard it the other way around all your life, “The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.” This suggests that commitment to a group identity and group action produces a total result greater than what would be possible if everyone acted individually. Hence the popular acronym for team: together everyone achieves more. This also suggests that synergy magically transforms the ordinary into something special and that cooperation elevates individuals to a level of functionality they are incapable of by themselves. It’s a nice sentiment, and we’d all like to believe it because it means that despite our ordinariness we can be a part of something special and feel elevation to a level previously believed unattainable. The truth is that successful teams are much more often less than the sum of their parts because it takes talented individuals to win. Teams win not when everyone does more than they’re capable of; but when everyone does less than they’re capable of so that everyone can do everything together. The “magic” of synergy is like lightning in a bottle. It’s not subject to scientific replication under controlled conditions. It’s more reliant on the whim and caprice of the “gods.” The discipline of restraint on the part of the talented is a far more reliable approach, far more subject to human control, and much more likely to be replicated under controlled conditions. Even on teams where there is an unquestioned megastar, in order for that team to experience success there has to be a constellation of other stars who intentionally dim their shine for the good of the team, as with the threepeat Lakers. Is your team greater or less than the sum of its parts?
5. Star. Every successful team has one main star, and everyone on the team “agrees” who that person or star is (whether they “believe” it or not). That’s the go-to person, the closer, the one counted on to lead the way when the going gets tough. And because leaders do the hard things first, the star is the person who’s always tackling the hard stuff. Whether or not that person is considered the most talented, or the most experienced, or the most fill-in-the-blank on the team, s/he is always highly respected for his/her willingness to and insistence on handling the hard stuff first, and showing others how to do it. Who’s the star on your team?

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