The 'I', 'we,' and 'you' of teamwork

In order to have a winner, the team must have a feeling of unity; every player must put the team first - ahead of personal glory. - Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

A team, business, or organization that desires to attain any degree of success must reconcile basic understandings of teamwork with practical application. There is an abundance of information available on the topic. But how do we make it applicable? What attitudes should a leader adopt that will cause people in your organization to buy-in to your leadership and commit themselves to its team environment?

One such approach I discovered is found in a statement attributed on the late Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama. He said:

“I'm just a plowhand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally, they've got one heartbeat together, a team. There are just three things I'd ever say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

This attitude is a reflection of his coaching and leadership style. Bear Bryant coached football teams for 38 years and in that time he had a 323-85-17 record including 29 bowl game wins. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not an Alabama football fan. I am a proud Tennessee Volunteer. But that aside, Coach Bryant’s insights into teamwork are worth serious consideration. Here are what I call the ‘I,’ ‘we,’ and ‘you’ approach to his teamwork model.

I - “If things go bad, I did it.” This approach speaks to his accountability as a leader. Most leaders would prefer to throw themselves into the spotlight rather than under the bus. Leaders who have developed the teamwork mindset know who deserves the spotlight when things go well and who deserves to catch the spears when they don’t.

Coach Bryant knew that in order for his teams to play at the level of his expectations he had to earn their trust. The same principle applies to you as a leader. You have to earn the trust of your people in order to build a cohesive teamwork environment. This takes a leader who knows how to coach his or her people then get out of the way and let them perform.

We - “If anything goes semi-good, then we did it.” This speaks to a balanced approach of how he saw his role as a leader and what amount of credit he felt he deserved. If things went reasonably well then it was safe to say “we did it.” If not, then, of course, we know how it felt.

Coach Bryant knew that “semi-good” successes were good for morale and are what led to the “one heartbeat” he described. The road to the National Championships was paved one play, one-quarter, one-half, and one game at a time. It was in the grit and grind of the “semi-good” that his great teams came together. And it was in those moments for the players that the transition from “I” ( look at how great I am, etc.) to “we” transformed them into a team. Coach Bryant was the example the players needed to make that transition.

You - “If anything goes real good, then you did it.” This statement speaks volumes about the heart and character of a great leader. When a team has come together, when they’ve left it all on the field, and together they have won a victory - the leader does not say, “look at what I did,” the true leader says, “you did it.”

“A leader is best,” said Lao Tzu, “when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” This is at the core of the leader who sets out to build a team.

Are you developing the heartbeat of a team?

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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