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Every Job Requires A Team

February 16, 2015

Your squad is deployed in a V formation and you have just been assigned to be the point of the V. What is the first thing you do?

I was the newest member of the BYU ROTC Ranger Challenge team. The entire team looked at me expectantly. It was the first day and I was beginning to feel like I hadn’t done the reading for class. Except that “class” was 5:00 AM in the Field House where we had just finished a series of pushups and sit-ups. There hadn’t been any prereading. They said anyone who wanted could show up at 5:00 AM and join the Ranger Challenge team.

The major continued to stare at me and the other cadets just stood there.

Ah. . .you dig in?

It was a weak answer and I knew it. The cadets let out a groan, and the major looked at them and smiled.

You know the drill. Drop and give me 20. It’s your own faults. How many times do I have to tell you, it’s your job to communicate.

We all dropped to pushup position and started. The cadet next to me looked over at me and said,

You talk to the guys on each side of you.

It didn’t take much at any time to earn the team a set of pushups, but this particular lesson has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. I didn’t pursue a military career. I chose computers, but those months in the ROTC had a huge impact on me. It was the first time I started to think about teams. It was the first time I realized a team wasn’t simply a collection of individuals who happen to wear the same colored uniform. Teams, if done correctly, are made up of individuals who depend on one another. That was the lesson the “V Formation.”

Ranger Challenge is a competitive team made up of ROTC cadets at each college. And of course there are events and competitions. One of the events was the rope bridge. In this event, cadets take a 1″ diameter rope that is 75 feet long. You string it between two telephone poles that are 50 feet apart. Then, each team member crosses it. The last one breaks down the bridge.

A good team could accomplish all of that in 90 seconds. A great team could do it in under 60. But, to be even a good team, you had to have a plan. We would lay the rope out in a specific pattern and then everyone had a role to fill. Everyone knew their jobs. My job was to grab the rope and hold it up as high as possible on the first telephone pole. The other tall guy and I on the team had this job.

Everyone had a job and everyone knew their job. That team went on to win the ROTC Ranger Challenge National Championship. They were a great team, because everyone knew they job and worked as a team.

When I joined Microsoft in 1994, there were 50,000 people who worked at Microsoft. From the outside it looks like a one big company. From the inside it’s a bunch of different divisions made up of multiple groups and different teams.

I was part of some great teams. Every team has certain needs. Just like a ROTC team had specific roles for each person, the Microsoft teams I was on had specific roles.

Oh sure, my training team had an Exchange guy, an NT guy, an Office guy. But, there are other roles that teams need. Teams need a leader, of course. But, teams need multiple leaders. They need an technical leader, often called an architect on technology teams. They need an emotional leader. The person they look to when faced with an extraordinary task, or emotional challenge. They need a social leader. The one who notices people’s moods, who knows that the best way to get favors out of the engineers is to bring them food. They need the “plucky comic relief.” The person who can lighten the mood with just the right one liner.

I heard an interview one time by one of the producers of the TV Series Star Trek Voyager. He explained that they wanted Kate Mulgrave to play Captain Janeway. But, if Mulgrave wasn’t available they were considering a male lead. He went on to say that if that happened, they would have had to reverse all the roles. The writers specifically picked the genders and the roles.

Just as the right people and the right roles make a team stronger, the wrong people in the wrong roles can destroy a team. We once hired a guy as our tech guy for a small startup that I ran. Everyone liked him, but unfortunately he wasn’t up to the technical requirements of the job. We eventually had to let him go.

It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

A team isn’t just a collection of people working on the same project. A team has to have the right people and the right roles.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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