It happened in Rome this past weekend, where the stage was set for a classic showdown, a battle not of gladiators but of teamwork versus individual effort. The forty-third Ryder Cup, golf’s ultimate team competition, unfolded as the USA’s finest golfers faced off against their European counterparts. This event spanned three days, with the initial two days dedicated to team play and the final day reserved for individual performances.
Historically, the US had triumphed 27 times to Europe’s 14, with the tournament witnessing two ties in its bi-annual history. However, the winds of change have swept through the golfing world in the past two decades, as Europe has won eight times compared to America’s three.
Questions abound about America’s recent struggles, often due to their poor team performance versus Europe’s consistent ability to thrive when playing alongside their comrades. For example, at the end of the first two days of this year’s competition, Europe held a commanding lead with 10.5 points to the US’s 5.5 points. With twelve single matches slated for Sunday, Europe needed only four points to win the Cup, a feat they easily accomplished.
Teamwork, a concept that requires collaboration and cooperation, seems elusive in our country where “rugged individualism” are the call words for success. The challenge in the workplace lies in reconciling this cultural inclination with the demands required in getting complex and ever-changing challenges addressed.
When I was in my corporate role, I was working on a project that required staff from multiple departments to work together. We all agreed that emails would not have to be “cc-ed” to everyone on the committee. Everyone except one person who said she would be emailing everyone on her emails to ensure her butt was covered.
In my consulting work, I often hear leaders lamenting the need to “break down silos,” urging their teams to “collaborate more effectively,” or hearing team members whine and complain about how someone (or some department) is not “carrying its load.” I remember hearing one senior leader once say, “Those guys have got to get their stuff together. He referred to his team and was taken aback when I asked him about his stuff.
It may be that in our country and workplaces, while we may value teamwork, we may lack the skills of teamwork. I often say that unless someone has been part of a sports team, played in a marching band, or volunteered for community projects, they likely lack the skills required to be a successful team member. Even without proper recognition for teamwork, developing the necessary abilities is challenging but achievable.
I advise my clients that there are four key areas where individuals can cultivate the skills of teamwork, and fortunately, these can be learned.
- Shared Mission: Do we collectively understand and support the team’s mission?
- Trust Building: Can we foster trust through honesty in our words and actions?
- Teamwork Skills: Are we equipped with the necessary skills, such as decision-making, active listening, and conflict resolution?
- Project Success: Can we achieve success by defining clear measures of success and understanding what it entails?
In a world that often emphasizes individual glory, embracing the power of teamwork becomes an even more exciting challenge. The US Ryder Cup will have its next chance in two years when the tournament is played in New York at Bethpage Black, a course I played as a teenager. I use to ask anyone or everyone how they thought my putt would roll on those undulating greens. I always got a good read from my buddies and used it to sink a putt. I hope the Americans can learn some of those lessons soon.
© Richard Citrin 2023