There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’
Anyone who watches a team sport understands the importance of all members to be working together. Many organizations make conscious efforts to improve teamwork, and a quick search on the Internet will provide countless articles or books on this subject. It is something so easy to understand, but yet it can be quite challenging to create. Most people in an organization come from all aspects of life, and are expected to come together and hopefully develop into a close knit group to functions as a highly efficient team. This is much easier said than done, especially given that people can bring personal motivations that may not be a healthy part of the team. When I was in college, I worked in a warehouse for a short while and quickly realized it was not the place for me. There was no concept of a team in that environment. The organization did not help matters by dangling the prospect for full-time employment (we were temps) for a few, which resulted in backstabbing and people actually working against each other to hopefully gain a full time status. That was a poor example of management and leadership to create the concept of working towards the greater good. Perhaps the best example of a team coming together is something I read recently, and was actually not even real.
Science fiction is a passion of mine. As a child I was in love with spaceships, providing the ability for humans to travel among the stars, and to do things we can hardly imagine. Using advanced technology, nothing was off limits. Even as children, some passions never quite leave us as we all enter adulthood. I still read many science fiction books and catch a lot of movies when opportunities arise. The ability to project the human race into the future shows me what can be possible if we all can work together (although not all science fiction shows humans as truly inspired, but much of it does). The general concept in the Star Trek universe, for example, is that we have united as a species when we fully realize our place in the universe. Sure people may identify with their place of origin, but there are things that are well beyond any petty territorial matters. That concept of being better as a whole than as individuals is a concept rooted in teamwork. The ability for an entire race to work and unify as a team is nothing short of species enlightenment.
Over this past weekend, I was reading a short story in Analog: Science Fiction & Fact magazine. “Not Close Enough” is a story by Martin Shoemaker that contains a valuable teamwork oriented lesson. In short, the story centers on the commander of a mission to Mars. Instead of a grand mission by humans to actually land on the planet, they are actually there to remotely land robotic probes in order to minimize the risk to humans. The equivalent of NASA in the story has long since given up bold and audacious goals and has become a risk adverse organization. The crew is a conglomerate of nations unified in the research of Mars, and has trained many months for the mission.
Upon arrival of the planet, the commander catches two members from one nation secretly building a special lander which will allow them to land on the planet for the glory of their country. The commander scolds them and confines them to their quarters for a period of time. Another member from a Japanese contingent actually acts of the request of his country to land on the planet first. Unknown to others, he has also been working on a lander with advanced software to improve the chances at a successful landing. Unfortunately he crashes and dies in his attempt. The commander is distraught for fear of losing the team he has assembled and built for this mission. While working as a team in preparation and during the mission, he senses that everyone has hidden agendas and nationalistic pride may be pushing them in competition of each other. He confides in his second-in-command as he views her as very reliable.
However, the second-in-command also has intentions on being the first to land to honor her grandfather who was a cosmonaut from Russia. She makes some improvements based on the failure of the Japanese individual, but also crash lands on the planet. However, she is injured and the lander is not repairable. At this point in the story, the commander pulls everyone left on the ship together and orders everyone to put their hidden plans on the table, and to work together to build a lander that will have the best chance of success to not only land on the planet, but to rescue their crewmate. At this point in the story, the crew resumes work as a team for a common goal. The commander takes the role of rescue pilot, lands on the planet, and the story ends with him pulling out the second-in-command, where he allows her to set foot on the planet (in spite of a broken leg) and proceeds to take off back to the ship.
The story is a quick and easy read, but I felt was a good exercise in the concept of teamwork. The crew deviated from a well-honed crew working together to a scattering of individuals working towards their own agendas that are separate from the mission. Only when they cease working on their own and come together as a team, they actually land on the planet and rescue their stranded crew member. Of course this is a work of fiction, but the concepts are easily transferable to reality. When a group of people can unite to a goal greater than their own, they truly become a team.