Individual sports require teamwork too.

Are you building a football team or a swimming team?

1024 681 David DeWolf

In Patrick Lencioni‘s recent LinkedIn post, The Decline of Teamwork in Sports, he posits that we have become a more self-centered and less team oriented culture. He mourns the reality that even in sports, historically the bastion of teamwork, there has been a dramatic decline in team orientation. Players are focused on personal accolades and individual brand. In basketball for example, players focus on isolation set rather than the motion offense. Today’s world, likely influenced by social media, is in many ways a “hero” culture.

I could not agree more with his conclusions; I have witnessed this decline, first hand, both as a sports fan and a father of several youth athletes. In business the same problem exists. A spirit of individualism and self centeredness permeates many organizations. Often new hires must be taught, from the ground up, what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves. And, while it pains me, it likewise highlights the reality of how essential teamwork and culture development are to leadership and uniqueness that doing so can be.

Deliberately defining the type of teamwork you expect

Teamwork is no longer developed at a young age. It no longer comes naturally. As a result, it is essential that leaders deliberately teach and develop the type of teamwork they want. We must be explicit about creating the team environment that we expect.

In doing so, I found one aspect of team leadership be underdeveloped. Likely learned subliminally by previous generations, a robust understanding of the different types of teams and how they differ seem to elude our research on teams.

In the sports world, swim teams, tennis teams and track teams are intrinsically different from football teams, basketball teams and soccer teams. The former compete individually. The latter compete as a unit. In business a sales team operates like a swim team whereas a leadership team or product development team operates more like a football team. Yet, little research, theory or advice has been created around the intrinsic differences of these teams or the differing principles and techniques needed to optimize a team environment.

It would undoubtedly behoove us as a society to develop a more robust understanding of these different types of teams. In the mean time, I have found it to be beneficial for leaders to acknowledge the type of team they are developing and be deliberate about how that reality might play out.