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Team Edition: Building Teams From The Inside Out

February 7, 2018

It’s just a movie. In fact, it’s not a particularly accurate movie. It’s certainly entertaining. But I was struck by what it teaches about teams.

I watched Gladiator today. I have spent a lot of time on planes this year and I’ve worked through most of the modern movies available on the in-plane entertainment system. Today, I picked the Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott Roman saga.

Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus starts the movie as the commanding general of not just one, but three Roman Legions. He’s fighting the Franks in ancient Germany. Of course, he wins a crushing victory. There’s lots of death and destruction and it sets up the political conflict for the rest of the movie. We don’t find out a lot about how Maximus runs his army, but we discover that he inspires a tremendous loyalty. It makes the betrayal of one of his chief advisors all the more surprising.

Not to rehash the entire movie, but eventually his character discovers his family has been killed and he is enslaved and forced to become a gladiator. And it’s this transition from leader to individual team member that struck me as compelling. Maximus appears to genuinely not care if he lives or dies.

Not only is he no longer the leader, because he initially refuses to spar, he’s deemed a coward and a deserter. When it is his turn to fight, he fights because it is the only thing he knows.

My task is to kill people so I kill.

Through the middle act of the film, we watch him step up and become a team member. In the final act he is clearly the leader of his team, giving orders and having them willingly obeyed. Eventually his team sacrifice themselves to give him a chance at freedom.

Ridley Scott, the director does a great job of building Maximus’ relationship with his team. And while your team is not going to enter the arena and fight to the death, there is still value in them building trust in one another.

The first hint of team building we see is after Maximus is captured. Juba, played by Djimon Hounsou, plays another slave, helps heal him. Gross as it is in the movie, putting maggots into an infected wound is actually an effective treatment. So, the first step in forming a team from the inside is to expose your own vulnerability. Crowe’s character trusts no one. His world has been destroyed. He’s not in the mood to “form a relationship of trust” with his coworkers.

In your office, putting maggots into a coworker’s wound might look like an invitation to join the team for lunch. Or afterwork drinks. If you have a team member who is as broken as this disgraced Roman general, it will most likely take a continued effort.

If you want to build a strong team, reach out to your coworkers. Show interest in their lives outside of work. Even if they say nothing, the effort will help strengthen the team.

But, all the lunches and drinks after work mean nothing if your coworkers don’t value their jobs and don’t do a good job. If the result of a failed performance review is to be hacked to death with a Roman short sword, you will have a highly motivated workforce. Hightly motivated doesn’t always transfer to highly skilled.

While Crowe’s gladiator isn’t much on conversation, he is very good at what he does. I’ve written previously about Prima Donnas. I don’t mind Prima Donnas, because in order to be a Prima Donna, you first have to be really good at what you do.

Sports teams don’t pick the best leader as the team captain. They pick the best player. The challenge is when the best player doesn’t want to be a leader. Fortunately, for the movie, Maximus is willing to be the leader.

You need to either be the leader, or encourage and support the leader. The team of slaves would have been easily killed if they had refused to unite behind Russell Crowe’s character. There were strong players on that team, just as there are on yours. Of course, the team leader doesn’t have to be the absolute strongest. But, it also cannot be the weakest.

Given the opportunity, a team will find it’s own leader. If you are a member of that team, it helps to understand how the team comes together.

This is the first in a three part series on team building:

Wednesday: Building Teams From The Inside Out
Thursday: Building Teams From The Outside In
Friday: The Best Team I’ve Ever Been On

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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