(Editor’s note: Guest writer Michelle Freed is a writer, public speaker, social commentator, playwright and corporate communications consultant. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleFreed.)

 

A day with the Indiana Fever reveals valuable lessons in teamwork and unity.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life working in teams. I’ve enjoyed (suffered from) countless groups that could be described as challenging (dysfunctional at best), and exhausting (pure torture at worst). I’ve done my best to work with strong-willed personalities (egomaniacs), quiet observers (terminally clueless), and eternal optimists (annoyingly perky).

On the other hand – and not coincidentally – as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve also worked with truly inspirational, motivational, satisfying and productive members of fantastic teams. The conclusion, of course, is that when you’re a part of a high-performing team, you just feel better, get more accomplished, and produce greater results.

What’s the secret?

So what’s the magic formula to building a great team? There are lots of really smart people who know way more about it than me. But I can tell you that I know one when I see one. Which is why I was so giddy when my good friend and Vida Aventura Owner Deseri Garcia asked me to join her for a team-building retreat with the Indiana Fever.

A day with the pros

It isn’t everyday you get to spend hours observing and interacting with professional athletes and coaches. The Indiana Fever were crowned WNBA Champions in 2012, and are enjoying their 11th consecutive appearance in the WBNA playoffs right now. And under the leadership of Coach Stephanie White (one of the winningest rookie coaches in WBNA history), there’s no doubt about it – this is a great team.

So on a sunny September day, the team and coaches gathered to participate in a team-building retreat, which involved a number of Hunger Games-themed activities requiring communication, leadership and collaboration, along with cognitive and physical skills. While Deseri led the retreat, I helped set up stations and keep score. I also watched and learned from some of the greatest athletes in the world. Here is what I saw:

Passion. From the minute smaller groups were formed (or “Districts,” in keeping with the theme), it was obvious that individuals were “all in.” They instantly banded together as they identified their new team’s name, mantra and strategy. No hesitation, no doubting the team structure. With lots of passion (“Let’s DO this! We are going to so be great …”), they simply plunged in to tackle the task at hand.

Attention. Because every activity involved rules, team members were extremely attentive to instructions … asking lots of questions and making sure they were clear about expectations. And from the beginning, they respected the process … there were no comments like, “Oh, this is stupid. Why are we even doing this?” But only when they were sure they understood the challenge were they ready to proceed.

Support. Talk about strong communication skills! As soon as Districts were formed, individuals loudly and clearly supported their teammates. They cheered each other on, and were quick to offer suggestions when needed. When points were scored? Loud and boisterous celebrations. When they lost a challenge? Sure, they expressed disappointment, but also continued with encouragement, both verbally and physically, through hugs and high-fives. No one was left quietly on the sidelines to fend for themselves or fade into the background.

Diversity. Okay, so the room was full of healthy and gifted athletes, but they also happened to be very diverse in personality. Some were loud and directive, while others were pensive and thoughtful. Some were quick to jump in and act, and others were strategic and observant. All of these styles were important at one time or another. The bottom line? They respected each other’s strengths, but also knew how they could contribute individually in a meaningful way, based on what seemed like a very deep level of self-awareness.

Leadership. Contrary to popular belief, star players or performers don’t always have to be the leaders. As Deseri mentioned to the group, “I believe you can lead from the bench.” In other words, everyone can be a leader through his or her actions, no matter the position, job title, or role. The Fever ladies know this. I noticed that throughout the day, every individual had an opportunity to positively influence others and take the lead in one way or another.

A Good Time. Perhaps most importantly, this group had fun. Were they serious and competitive when faced with challenges? Absolutely. But they also teased each other, told stories, shared ideas and laughed. A lot. It was absolutely obvious from my outside perspective that they were united in a way that can only come from time, experience and attention.

Reflection. When the challenges were over and we took the time to cool off and think about the events of the day, there was a high level of insight shared among the entire team. What strategies worked well? What caught some off guard or caused others frustration?  And what elements were present when things didn’t turn out the way they expected? This process of reflection … taking time to consider actions and results … was enlightening and helped the group walk away with what I believe was a sense of purpose and understanding.

What does it all mean?

Obviously, we can’t all be world-class professional athletes, but we can be great team players. We can get to know each other better on deeper levels – no matter the setting – and trust in our own strengths while valuing the differences in others. We can support, encourage and trust those around us, while demonstrating leadership and the ability to listen. We can cheer, embrace and high-five … celebrating victories and working through disappointments. As the Indiana Fever showed me, this is what makes up a great team.

Are you a team player?

What qualities have you observed in successful (or unsuccessful) teams? What qualities do you believe make up a great team and lead to positive results? We’d love to hear about your team experiences … the good and the bad ones. Please leave your comments below.