The importance of team-work

Rahul Dravid had played an epochal knock of 270 in the final Test at Rawalpindi during India’s tour of Pakistan in 2004, starring in as many as three century partnerships with Parthiv Patel, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly and another stand worth 98 runs with Yuvraj Singh. His fitness played an important part in his epic innings in energy-sapping conditions and it needed coach John Wright to put things in perspective. He acknowledged the role of trainer Gregory Allen King and physiotherapist Andrew Leipus in getting the players into a splendid physical state. “Rahul is certainly one of the guys who has really worked hard on fitness. There’s a lot of team effort behind it. We try and support each player and give him the best opportunity to go out there and do his best,” he said, highlighting how Team India had worked hard.

It is a bit of a pity that in a team sport, everyone all but overlooks the importance of team-work and pays much attention to impressive individual statistics and records tend to make everyone. The story is no different in Formula One racing where the media coverage has nearly always focused on personalities and skills of the drivers when the fact is that no one would win races, let alone become World Champion, without teamwork both behind the scenes and on the track.

To be sure, even in individual sport, there is a support team that is backing the performer. Tennis legend Rod Laver, the only man to win the Grand Slam twice, talked about the encouragement he got from team-mates Roy Emerson and Mel Anderson. “I worked well to encouragement and I responded well to the positive example,” he said. Modern champions, of course, have a small army of support staff working with them – coaches, trainers, physiotherapists, mind trainers and nutritionists to name a few.

Indeed, the importance of team-work in sport – or for that matter in life – can never be over-stated. Teams – and organisations – must ensure that their environments are not charged with too much negative energy, poor stress/recovery habits, work/life balance issues, confidence, burnout and subtle forms of self-sabotage. For all these can cause a person to under-perform on the job. This makes the difference between victory and defeat and costs organisations time, productivity and money.

There is no question that the organisational culture is a huge factor in the evolution of team-work. To cite an example, it is no secret that successive Indian cricket team leaders have had to work very hard to make the players come together as one.

So how do sports teams ensure that their environments are conducive to improve team-work? At the outset, the leader of the team clearly spells out the common goals and gets the team-mates to buy into that. Often, the leader decided on the kind of people taken on board the team and usually keeps the difficult elements out. Of course, there are also times when leaders retain such performers in the hope that their positives would outweigh the negatives and they would deliver.
Some of the factors that go towards ensuring a high level of team-work

  • Mutual respect for one another’s skills and roles within the team
  • Pride in one another’s performance and achievements
  • Clear and lucid communications within the group and outside on improving performance
  • Co-operation with those around by understanding why they do the things they do
  • Building relationships and creating a community with co-workers
  • Treating people the way they should be treated
  • Having a positive attitude
  • Bringing passion into play every day

It is not always possible to blend each of these elements within a team and there are some exceptions. It would help to recall one excellent example of team-work, even in the face of a poor relationship between colleagues. There was a time when Manchester United strikers Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole fell out and did not speak with one another through two seasons. Despite a lack of communication, they formed a great partnership and ensured that the team won a unique treble the first season and in the next scored a record 97 goals between themselves.

But then, this is just a remarkable exception and most teams succeed when they score high in most of these factors. It may be of help to remember that in cricket a run is scored not only when the striker gets to the other end but also when the non-striker has done his bit and reached the safety of the crease.