Saturday, September 30, 2023

Teamwork makes it happen

| August 14, 2022 1:00 AM

Once upon a time, there was an enterprising businessman who had a fantastic idea. He thought he had figured out a way to build the perfect automobile.

He hired a team of young engineers and told them to buy one of every model car in the world and dismantle them, picking out the best part of every car and placing it in a special room. Soon, the room was filled with parts judged by the group to be the best-engineered in the world — the best carburetor, the best brakes, the best steering wheel, transmission and so on. It was an impressive collection — more than 5,000 parts in all.

Then the businessman had all the parts assembled into one automobile. There was only one problem: The car would not function — the parts would not work together.

The moral of the story: You can have a team of superior individualistic "all stars," but they are no match for a group of people with a common objective and harmony.

My definition of teamwork is a collection of diverse individuals who respect each other and are committed to each other's successes.

Teamwork sometimes requires people to play roles that aren't as glamorous as they'd like.

There's the story of the symphony conductor who was asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. Without missing a beat, the conductor replied: "Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists. But finding someone who can play second fiddle with enthusiasm is a real problem. When we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

You just can't win without teamwork. You have no harmony.

Teamwork is unwittingly shunned by most people in business because, deep down, they are afraid of it. They think it will render them anonymous or invisible.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

That's why in sports the team with the most superstars doesn't usually win championships. From the late '50s to the mid-'70s, the Boston Celtics won 13 NBA championships without having the leading scorer in the league. They accomplished it with phenomenal teamwork. The leader of the Celtics in that era was Bill Russell, who recently passed away. Russell was a team-first player, yet in 1980 he was voted the greatest player in NBA history by basketball writers.

The player many consider the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), Michael Jordan, said: "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."

Magic Johnson, retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar, said: "Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates." (Does that sound a little familiar?) Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.

This advice extends far beyond the sports arena. Your company either functions as a team or it's headed for the showers.

Teams have shaped American history since its beginning ... the voyage of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria ... the wagon trains that carried pioneers into new frontiers ... the soldiers who fought in every sort of environment in every corner of the world. American industry became the world leader when it came up with the assembly line, a concept that still works, combining human and robotic capabilities. Working together is critical for success, and that hasn't changed over the years.

There is no greater example of teamwork than a good marriage. Many years ago in Austria, there was a custom that helped villagers size up the future happiness of a newly married couple. After the marriage ceremony in a local church, the villagers would escort the bride and groom to a nearby forest and stand them before a large tree, where they would hand the couple a two-handled saw and ask that they use it to cut the tree down. With the bride on one end of the saw and the groom on the other, the villagers watched as the young couple sawed through the tree.

The closer the cooperation between the husband and wife, the shorter the time it took for the tree to come down. And the older villagers wisely reasoned that the shorter the time, the happier the young couple would be — because they had learned that most valuable of marital lessons — teamwork!

Mackay's Moral: Don't aspire to be the best ON the team. Aspire to be the best FOR the team.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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