A famous organist was performing a concert on a huge antique organ in front of a large audience. The bellows were hand-pumped by a boy seated behind a screen, unseen by any in the vast auditorium. The first part of the performance went very well, and at intermission the organist took his bows as the listeners applauded enthusiastically. During the break, the musician rested in a side passageway. The boy came out to join him.
"We played well, didn't we, sir?" the boy asked.
The arrogant musician glared at him. "What do you mean, 'we'?"
After the intermission, the organist returned to his seat to begin his next number, but as he pressed his fingers down on the keys, nothing happened. The bellows produced no wind, and not a sound came out.
Then the organist heard a whisper from behind the screen: "Say, mister, now do you know what 'we' means?"
Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.
I've written more than a dozen columns during the last 18-plus years on the importance of teamwork. You might wonder what else there is to say. The simple answer: plenty! As long as projects require the efforts of more than one person, we'll keep talking about teamwork.
Michael Jordan, in his book "I Can't Accept Not Trying," writes: "There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren't willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."
In Japanese culture, institutionalized conflict is an integral part of management. At Honda, any employee, however junior, can call for a "waigaya" session. The rules are that people lay their cards on the table and speak directly about problems.
Nothing is off-limits, from supervisory deficiencies on the factory floor to perceived lack of support for a design team. "Waigaya" legitimizes tension so that learning can take place.
Teamwork begins with the hiring process. Ask interview questions that uncover teamwork skills. Listen for stories or examples of "we" accomplishments, and unless the candidate was a one-person shop, the answers should include clues to a collaborative attitude.
Mackay's Moral: "We" is a little word that sends a big message.
Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing email@example.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.