This is a guest post from Joel Spyker.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “The team is only as strong as the weakest link?”
This is a great visual representation of how many people view teamwork. Many leaders take this perspective and use it to guide their teams in hopes of successful results. The premise seems pretty sound. Chains are used to lift, pull or otherwise move or hold objects beyond the ability of any single link. The links connect together creating a chain that far exceeds the usefulness of any one link. The more links the chain has, the more versatile its function. This seems like a good leadership strategy, right? We all want to make strong and versatile teams that will withstand the large workloads we are all thrown into.
Awesome! Let’s GO!
But wait… What happens if even one link is not as strong as all the others? What happens if there is a weak link in your chain or your team?
If you are using a chain to lift a heavy object and one link in that chain has a bad weld or a small cut, that link will not be able to withstand the weight the chain should be capable of holding. As the load is moved, the weak point in the link will begin to strain, stretch and separate. At some point during the move, that link will stretch to the point it will no longer be able to hold onto the two links on either side. The chain snaps and the load takes a devastating crash to the ground. One weak link. That’s all it takes. One weak link and the entire chain fails to be able to complete its intended job. Using this model tends to allow 100% of a teams success or failure to fall solely on one individual rather than the team effort.
In mechanical terms the link failed, causing the load to crash to the ground. In reality however, the entire chain was a failure due to the chain’s inability to compensate for the weakness of just one link. It is not fair, realistic or responsible for us as leaders to treat our team members this way. They are not all built from the same machine, using the same mold and specifications. We cannot expect them to all perform exactly the same or for them to all withstand the same pressures.
What other option do we have to lead our teams in a way that promotes strong group efforts, but does not single out any one person to carry all the weight? As is true in many aspects of life, observing nature’s solutions may provide some helpful insight.
Have you ever watched the sky as birds migrate during the changing seasons? The birds have teamwork and leadership figured out. They will fly as a team for thousands of miles to get to their seasonal homes. When they are in flight for their long migrations, they fly in a “V” formation? As a kid, I enjoyed watching them and thought it looked cool. I never really thought about or realized how important the “V” formation is to their migration process. What we often do not see, unless we happen to see the flock at just the right time, is that the lead bird changes throughout their journey. The lead position in the V formation takes the brunt of the head-on wind resistance and opens a V shaped jet stream for the rest of the flock to fly in with less resistance. When the lead bird tires, it will fall back to the end of the line where it can rest in easier flight for a while. Then the next bird in line takes its place as lead. They do this back and forth between the two lines of the V, cycling through all the entire flock. Each adult bird leads the flock for as long as it can and they all support each other to meet their goal. At the end of the day, as the flock tires, they land and rest together to prepare for the next flight.
Let’s consider what it may look like if we lead using a migrating birds model. We will empower each individual in our teams to accomplish their role to the best of their ability. Giving them opportunities to grow and take the lead in their areas of expertise will encourage them to excel. We will encourage them for their contributions to the team and support them when they need to hang back and follow the rest of the team. We will prepare them for their lead role, even if only for a seemingly small part of the overall team goal.
While adopting the migrating birds model of leadership, we must also keep in mind the true dynamics of the teams we are leading and working with. What this means is that, while every adult bird has it time in the lead of the flock, some of our team members may not be ready for that yet for any number of reasons. Or the sub-function that they perform may not be appropriate to be in the team’s lead position. Just because they may not be in the front to take the full lead position of the team, they will still know that their role is important. Being part of a team that encourages and promotes teamwork in leadership, will help our team members grow in their professional skillset. When our team members truly feel they have value in the team and are encouraged to excel, the trust, strength and versatility of the team will grow exponentially. They may never lead our “flock,” but we can imagine they will grow and lead their own team down the road and we will do our best to contribute to their success.
The chain, though it is a strong and useful tool, focuses on the strength of the whole with the assumption that each individual is always up to every task any other individual is. By design, the chain will fail if any one individual part is not up to the task.
The migrating birds focus on the strengths of each individual, with the knowledge that the whole will make it farther with each individual using their abilities. By nature, the birds support each other and succeed every time.
I leave you with this. There is no “I” in “Team,” but there is “V” in “Value.” We should value our team as a whole as well as the contributions of each individual. We should celebrate the accomplishments of team members as they learn new ways to add value to the team and their own lives. We must show them the Value that their role is to the whole of the team. Recognition and appreciation often mean more to our team members than we may imagine.
Joel Spyker is married with 4 wonderful children. He graduated from Dallas Christian College with a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and a Leadership. Joel has over 25 years experience leading teams in many different capacities within the food services and information technologies fields in religious, pharmaceutical and entertainment industries. Joel has a passion for teaching/training other leaders to develop their current strengths and new skills alike.