Life and Death: What Stakes are Your Team Playing For?

Is the risk of death the only motivation that creates authentic team work?

I just watched the 10th Chilean minor to be pulled from their 69 day tomb and as usual when watching such miracles, I am inspired by how people will rally together and turn a horrifying experience into a positive one.  The media on the morning news  show I was watching were commenting about how awesome the spirit of teamwork was displayed among the trapped miners, the people of the community and the teams of rescuers still in the middle of pulling all the miners to safety as I write this.

This really got me thinking.

One of my favorite quotes about work is by author David Harder: “I’ll do anything is no longer enough.  We had better find something we’d do anything for.”   He goes on to say, “Without passion, without interest, without meaning, work is a bit like coming into the world and signing up for life support.  We get food, air and water, but who cares?”

As I reflect on some of the teams I am working with, I think there is a distinct need for a team to believe what they are working together for matters in a BIG way.

Example A:  A finance team is fighting over which color phones they received in a system upgrade, and what location their work space is moved to, while their company’s sales and profits are declining with no promise of how when or how a turnaround will happen.

Example B:  A manufacturing leadership team is plugging along to grow their business, but , according the CEO, in spite of being on the cusp of losing their biggest customer this year, has yet to demonstrate any significant game changing ideas to transform how they are going to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Example C:  A post-bankrupt automotive supplier formed special project teams to solve some chronic business challenges to help them be more effective and support an aggressive growth strategy.  These teams are highly engaged and with minimal support, are advancing their projects in innovative and effective ways, while reporting high levels of satisfaction working together.

In each example, I can assure you, business conditions are brutal.  None of the organizations are making profits close to what they made 2-3 years ago.  All are at risk of dying if they don’t do everything they can NOW to be the most innovative and indispensible to their customers as possible.

Perhaps the Example C team has a glimmer of what miners feel, as they have come close to financial death and are now rising from the ashes.  But does it take a near death experience or can a strong leader create passion, interest and meaning in a team to authentically want to work together, care for each other in the process, and create amazing outcomes and make a difference in the world?

I think not!

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