Many sports enthusiasts believe “the best players make the best team.” Without question, this notion may be true in some instances in sport and exercise settings. However, throughout history, numerous sporting events have produced “upsets” involving team competition (i.e., the “best” team did not win the athletic contest). Therefore, this notion is not true 100 percent of the time. Thus, discuss how summing up the abilities of individual members of the team does not accurately describe “successful” group performance. In your discussion, provide one sport-specific example of how an individual’s abilities may interfere with “successful” team performance.
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A successful team working together to maximize the individual talents of the group is rare and exceptional occurrence. Teamwork is “people working together to achieve something beyond the capabilities of the individuals working alone” (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001, p. 356). A team is a group of two or more individuals who interdependently seek to accomplish a common objective in order to meet the individual and group objective(s). A team should be a cooperative and collaborative unit (Lino, 2016).
It is highly difficult and against human nature to get a group of individuals to work together and perform as a team and maximize the talent of each individual member for the betterment of the unit. That is why highly successful teams are so special to witness. Real teamwork implies collaboration, communication, and acknowledgment of a common purpose (Lino, 2016).
Teams are made of individuals and each individual has their own motivations and objectives. High and low achievers think differently and therefore act differently; overachieving teams think and therefore act differently than underachieving teams. Summing up the abilities of individual members of a team does not accurately describe a successful team. In fact, teams perform under the net abilities of individual members more often than achieve at or above a team’s net ability.
In business and in sports the sentiment is the same “if you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time” (Lencioni, 2002, p. vii). The formula for success is simple- work together as a team. However, the simplest items are frequently the most difficult to achieve.
High achieving teams are an exception, in part, because of the psychological make-up of human beings. There is a phenomenon that prevents a group from performing at the sum level of the individuals called the Ringlemann effect. The Ringlemann effect is a phenomenon that occurs when the average individual performance decreases with an increase in group size (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 245). Put simply, a person will put forth less than their best effort when working within a group, and the percentage of effort decreases with each additional member of the group. Researchers believe that the Ringlemann effect is a result of motivational loss in a group setting- a situation that was dubbed social loafing.
The essence of athletic coaching is to influence team members to contribute at the maximum percent of their abilities to the team’s endeavors. In some very special examples athletic leaders are able to extract more than 100 percent of an individual’s abilities for the cause of the team. In some special moments the connection to the team, unified belief in the cause, and the bond between teammates can provide a platform that allows team members to increase their abilities and perform beyond their capabilities. There are only two methods to influence human behavior; manipulation and inspiration. When athletic leaders can develop a culture of camaraderie and trust they are able to inspire a sense of why within a team- and success follows (Sinek, 2013).
Analysis of underachieving teams will leave one with a list of reasons why teams fail to achieve their ability but does not provide a list of what to do. Most of the time the “why” a team did not reach full potential is only a list of symptoms of more deeply-rooted problems. Applying the 5 Whys technique developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation (Seiter, 2018) would be a method to fully understand why a problem kept a team from achieving its potential. The most prudent method of analyzing successful team performance is to identify what a successful team did correctly, not what an unsuccessful team did incorrectly. Success can only be found in what steps a team should make.
In the sporting environment there are few examples of how groups can defy human nature and- for a short amount of time- be able to perform at or above the sum of individual abilities. Many examples and analogies of proper teamwork are compared to the sport of rowing. Perhaps the greatest team achievement- and hardest to accomplish- is present when 8 rowers and a coxswain are performing in perfect harmony- the swing. Swing is fleeting and nearly indescribable. It is the moment when the physical propulsion of a boat evolves into a metaphysical sensation of transcendence. The swing originates in the realm of unconscious cooperation, it is surrendering to a process rather than demanding results (Socolow, 2016).
Rowers report that they become one with the boat and their fellow oarsmen, since one’s own power applied to the boat is multiplied by their boat mates. Eight oars emerge from the water in tandem; eight oars enter again. Rowing with teammates is demanding in the area of balance, trust, confidence, and harmony that few other team sports can replicate.
Former Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer (Meyer & Coffey, 2017) states that trust an essential ingredient that allows teams to achieve exceptional results. In order for a team to train and compete at an elite level members must push each other exceptionally hard. The limiting factor with how hard teammates can push each other is the level of trust within the team that has been developed, cultivated, and established.
A team is made up of individuals and the personality of the individuals can be a binding agent that holds the team together when tough times surface or a divider that tears a team apart.
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A team must be able to work together, and they must be engaged with one another which is very simple yet difficult task for people that are different and have different agendas. This is when a coach must be engaged and continuously serve as a guiding force to direct the group.
On a team there are many roles that need to be filled. Often times team members are preoccupied with finding their place on the team and not filling the role that is needed. In generic terms all teams are susceptible to team dysfunction. Often times the quest for the individual success and recognition interferes with the teamwork needed to get the job done (Winsborough & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2017).
Sport-specific examples of team dysfunction have been documented and effect some sports more than other sports. There is evidence that some team sports are more dependent on team play than other sports and there is strong evidence that having too much talent is counterproductive. Having too many dominant individuals on one team can interfere with group unity and become a struggle over authority (Bendersky & Hays, 2012). Too many dominant players can lead to status competition within the team forcing individuals to focus their attention on maneuvering for intra-team rank instead of directing their efforts toward team unity.
Clearly there is a tradeoff between top talent and teamwork. Swab, Schaerer, Anicich, Ronay, & Galinsky (2014) identified that some sports are more dependent on team play than other sports. They found that for both basketball and soccer top talent did in fact predict team success, but only up to a point. Furthermore, there is a point of diminishing returns with respect to top-tier talent. Top talent comes at a cost to team strategy. Basketball and soccer teams with the greatest proportion of elite performers achieved less wins than those with more moderate proportions of top level players.
In the authors’ basketball study, the amount of top-tier talent interfered with the basic strategy of play and was clearly evident through statistical analysis. Teams with the most top performers had fewer assists and defensive rebounds, but lower percentage of made field-goals. These findings identify failures in strategic, collaborative play and manifest as problems that undermine the team’s effectiveness (Swab, Schaerer, Anicich, Ronay, & Galinsky, 2014).
In contrast a baseball study revealed that increasing numbers of stars on a team did not hinder overall performance. Together these findings suggest that high levels of top-level talent will be harmful in sports that require coordinated, strategic efforts, and selfless team play.
There’s an old saying among sports coaches:
“A champion team will defeat a team of champions.” (Lino, 2016)
- Bendersky, C., & Hays, N. A. (2012). Status conflict in groups. Organization Science, 23, 323–340.
- Gill, D., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Lencioni, P. (2002). The five corruptions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Lino, C. (2016). The Psychology of Teamwork: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teams Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/psychology-teamwork/
- Marks, M. A., Mathieu, J. E., & Zaccaro, S. J. (2001). A tempo- rally based framework and taxonomy of team processes. Academy of Management Review, 26, 356–376.
- Meyer, U., & Coffey, W. R. (2017). Above the line: Lessons in leadership and life from a championship season. New York: Penguin Books.
- Sinek, S. (2013). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. London: Portfolio/Penguin.
- Socolow, M. (2016, October 23). Rowling’s search for swing. Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2016/10/22/rowing-search-for-swing/atZLkSvjEr05fp2d2Tg30J/story.html%3foutputType=amp
- Seiter, C. (2018, August). The 5 whys process we use to understand the root of any problem. Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/open.buffer.com/5-whys-process/amp/
- Swab, R., Schaerer, M., Anicich, E., Ronay, R., & Galinsky, A. (2014). The too-much-talent effect: team interdependence determines when more talent is too much or not enough. Association for Psychological Science. 25(8) 1581-1591.
- Winsborough, D. & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017, January 25). Great Teams Are About Personalities, Not Just Skills. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2017/01/great-teams-are-about-personalities-not-just-skills
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