It is very likely that you’ll have read at least one version of this short story before. But as it is such a neat little tale, it is worth a few seconds more of your time to read it again.
A head teacher gives an uninflated red balloon to each of her 120 students as they sit, cross legged, in her morning assembly. Then, she instructs the students, all of whom know each other very well, as follows,
“OK everybody. Write your own name, in full, on your own balloon. Then blow your balloon up, tie it, and follow me to the gym.”
Once everyone is gathered in the gymnasium, the teacher then instructs the 120 students to each toss their balloon into the air, and to spend the following 60 seconds firmly but gently – so as not to burst anyone’s balloon – ‘batting’ their balloon, and then as many other balloons as they can, in as many different directions as possible. Until the balloons are well and truly mixed up.
Then, the teacher says this:
“OK team. Whilst being very careful not to burst any of the balloons, you now have 90 seconds to find and stand still holding your own balloon above your head… Go!”
Much chaos ensued as the 120 students scramble around the gym looking for their own balloon. All similarly sized. All written on in a very similar and therefore largely indistinguishable way – especially whilst bobbing around a room filled with 120 noisy, elbow-flaring students taking a 1 in 120 chance on the balloon on the floor in front of them. All bright red.
After one and a half minutes, the teacher called the task to a halt, and the room looked on as 20 or so students held their own balloons aloft. And around 100 did not.
After the giggling and the panting subsided, the teacher spoke again.
“Pick up one balloon. Any balloon. And hand it to whoever’s name is written on it.”
A further 60 seconds passed. After which, lo and behold, all 120 students held the balloon that carried their own name above their heads.
Said the teacher,
‘Now you truly are a team. You are a successful team. Because not one of you looked out for just yourself. Your focus – was the team as a whole.”
Great teams are unbeatable. Here are six pointers that will help towards making any group of people into a great team. They are adapted from a poster designed by respected marketer and brand builder, David Hieatt, for The Do Lectures, of which David is a Co-founder.
- Never Settle. Kill, ‘we always do it this way’. Be hungry for that which you do not know. Look to be better tomorrow than you are today. It is the role of the leadership in your organisation to make sure that the team’s hunger to improve is always there. Every single day. That’s the mindset. Those are the behaviours. It’s how we all must be.
- Change a Little. Change a Lot. Most people ignore the little things they can make better, because they don’t offer a big enough and a fast enough result or impact. Instead, they focus on the big wins. The headlines. The sexier things that they know will give them that lovely dopamine hit, and give the organisation a real boost too – right now. But the power of the incremental gain over time presents much better results in the longer term. The compounding effect of trying to get just 1% better every day is huge. Compounded, 1% per day is almost four thousand percent better at the end of the year than you were at the beginning. Wow! 40 times better in just one year. Change a little. Change a lot.
- Stay Safe. A great team feels like a safe place to be. More specifically, a great team feels like a safe place to be yourself. Even the strongest teams disagree. But they disagree behind closed doors. They disagree – but they are not disagreeable. The members of the team like each other and they want the best for each other. So there’s respect. They have each other’s back. Everything they want to say, they say to each other’s face. Great teams challenge each other. But always with the intent to raise the overall team standards and to push the agreed mission on. Never to belittle or squash another team member.
- Say it. Do it. No matter how small or insignificant you may think that the thing you promised to do may be, if you say it – do it. Respect yourself enough to follow your words with actions. Commit. Lead by example in this. Follow through.
- Have a Clear Vision and Purpose. Teams have to know the change they are born to make in this world. The change upon which everybody in the team is focussed. It is the fuel for the journey. It is the grit. It is the passion. It is meaning. It is belief in better. If there is no vision and purpose, there’s no fuel. If there’s no fuel, there is no culture. If there is no culture, there is no team. And if there is no team – there is no point.
- Have fun. Doing your best work is rarely an easy thing. It can be uncomfortable. And you will have to stretch yourself. Now, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but on the other hand – comfort zones are very often thought of as fun. But they’re not really, because comfort zones are dull. Samey. Unexciting. Comfort zones are where dreams go to die. And don’t misconstrue what real fun in a successful team is. Fun is not a pool table or a funky break-out area. Fun is adventurous work. Fun is pride in your work. Fun is learning new things and achieving something way, way beyond what you thought was ever possible for you to achieve. Fun is addressing and maybe even reaching your true potential. But most of all, fun is having the leadership and a team around you that know all of this too. That’s the team that will help you. That’s the team that you want to help.
Teams. Great teams. They’re unstoppable.