Take a few moments to think about the best teams in the world. Where would the Chicago Bulls be when Jordan was on the team rank? How about the Yankees when Babe Ruth was there? Or the Brazilian soccer team when Pele reigned supreme?
There are teams that even decades after their prominence are still in the public consciousness. It’s obvious why they’re still infamous: they were the best at what they did while they did it.
Every team wants that kind of success, but very few achieve it. There are so many external factors that go into that outlandish kind of success. Timing and luck do have something to do with it, but there are things well within the control of the team that propelled them towards fame and recognition.
I’m sure there are scores of books written on what makes these kinds of teams what they were. In depth analysis that has taken years to develop and complete. I don’t have those kinds of resources for my personal blog, so I take what epiphanies I can get.
When I think back on those teams in particular, there are some patterns that stick out. The first is that there was a central figure in the team that propelled them to success. The tendency for humans to categorize and rank may place some small part. All things considered, Jordan, Ruth, and Pele were the best at what they did. They would have been the star even if they were on another team. Period.
In the tech world, these are the rockstars. They are the great programmers that every team is centered around. They are the kind of people that people aspire to be. They carry the team when they are down, and make the team phenomenal when they are up.
There is also one characteristic that gets frequently missed: rockstars challenge everyone around them to be better.
When I think back on all the great programmers I’ve had the opportunity to work with, I can very clearly remember them doing things to make me work at a higher level. There is something catalytic about a great programmer that makes you want to be better. They hold you to the same high standard they hold themselves to.
The great teams are ones where everyone was focused on challenging each other to be better. They had a culture where good was never enough. Every member of the team was focused on the betterment of the team.
The most successful teams I’ve been on have had a culture of challenge. Every member of the team was expected to both contribute directly to the team and hold every other member accountable for doing the same. If someone was not performing up to the level they needed to be, the whole team challenged them to be better.
Many people do not like confrontation. Many people can’t handle being told they are not up to snuff. These people tend to not do well in high performing groups that have a culture of challenge. Being able to react positively to feedback is an important skill in a team that holds every member accountable.
Having a culture of challenge is a very difficult thing to accomplish. A lot of people will react negatively to it. However, if it can be achieved, great things can happen.
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