Mackay: None of us is as good as all of us

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • December 1, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Teamwork might seem like a complicated subject, but to some creatures, it comes naturally as a way to survive and expend the least amount of energy.

According to a BBC News story, scientists taped heart monitors to great white pelicans. These birds had been trained to fly behind a light aircraft and a boat, and a team was able to observe them during their flight. Pelicans, it is known, fly in “squadron” formation, or in a “V” shape, and they flap their wings in time with their leader. Scientists, now able to observe and gather data from the heart monitors, found that the birds’ heartbeats were lower when they flew in formation than when they flew solo. Their heart rates slowed because they were able to benefit from each other’s air streams. They were also able to glide more.

Working together, the birds were able to accomplish their migratory goals by expending less energy and being able to fly farther than when they are alone. It seems that there is a lesson here, and it’s not for the birds.

Lester C. Thurow, economist and dean of the Sloan School of Management, said: “There is nothing antithetical in American history, culture or traditions to teamwork. Teams were important in America’s history — wagon trains conquered the West, men working together on the assembly line in American industry conquered the world, a successful national strategy and a lot of teamwork put an American on the moon first (and thus far, last).

“But American mythology extols only the individual — the Lone Ranger or Rambo. In America, halls of fame exist for almost every conceivable activity, but nowhere do Americans raise monuments in praise of teamwork.”

Why is that? I can think of no single feat that was accomplished without a little help.

A story in the Harvard Business Review illustrates the importance of teamwork at every level. While many Westerners might think that consensus is characteristic of Japanese culture, institutionalized conflict is an integral part of Japanese management.

“At Honda, any employee, however junior, can call for a ‘waigaya’ session. The rules are that people lay their cards on the table and speak directly about problems.

“Nothing is out of bounds, from supervisory deficiencies on the factory floor to perceived lack of support for a design team.

“ ‘Waigaya’ legitimizes tension so that learning can take place.”

That example emphasizes the importance of every member of the team and how a real team should function. Each member should be able to contribute strengths and ideas; otherwise, the concept of team is meaningless.

Once upon a time, there was an enterprising businessman who had a fantastic idea. He figured out a way to build the perfect automobile. He hired a team of young engineers and told them to buy one of every car model in the world and dismantle them.

He instructed them to pick out the best part from every car and to place it in a special room. Soon the room was filled with parts judged by the group to be the best engineered in the world — the best carburetor, the best set of brakes, the best steering wheel, the best transmission, and so on. It was an impressive collection — more than 5,000 parts in all. Then he had all the parts assembled into one automobile — the pick of the world, so to speak.

There was only one problem: It didn’t work! The automobile refused to function. The parts would not work together.

It’s the same with people. A team of people or things with a common objective and harmony can be superior to a group of individual “all-stars” any day.

Mackay’s Moral: TEAM: Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail

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