Have you ever been part of a team that magically came together? -where everyone thoroughly enjoyed being part of the team, worked together in synchronicity, and where you were really proud of what you accomplished?
Over the years when I ask this question, I hear people share their experiences in all kinds of settings: work, community, sports, religious, high school, and once even a “gang” of school-age kids who built a tree house.
When I then ask what were the most important conditions that contributed to the success of the team, I invariably hear “shared goal” or “common vision.”
In his book Second Wind, Bill Russell describes his powerful experience as a member of that kind of team – the Boston Celtics during the “dynasty years” (1957-69). Under the leadership of Red Auerbach, the Celtics collected 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Their streak of eight consecutive NBA championships is the longest streak in U.S. professional sports history.
Every so often a Celtics game would heat up so that it became more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. That feeling is difficult to describe, and I certainly never talked about it when I was playing. When it happened, I could feel my play rise to a new level. It came rarely, and would last from five minutes to a whole quarter or more. Three or four plays were not enough to get it going. It would surround not only me and the other Celtics, but also the players on the other team, and even the referees.
At that special level, all sorts of odd things happened. The game would be in a white heat of competition, and yet somehow I wouldn’t feel competitive–which is a miracle in itself. It’d be putting out the maximum effort, straining, coughing up parts of my lungs as we ran, and yet I never felt the pain. The game would move so quickly that every fake, cut, and pass would be surprising, and yet nothing could surprise me. It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells, I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. Even before the other team brought the ball in bounds, I could feel it so keenly that I wanted to shout to my teammates, “It’s coming there!” –except that I knew everything would change if I did. My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart, but also all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.
Sometimes the feeling would last all the way to the end of the game, and when that happened I never cared who won. I can honestly say that those few times were the only ones when I did not care. I don’t mean that I was a good sport about it–that I’d played my best and had nothing to be ashamed of. On the five or ten occasions when the game ended at that special level, I literally did not care who had won. If we lost, I’d still be as free and high as a sky hawk.
Why Vision Matters
What is it about vision that creates such a magical experience? Here are 8 ways vision unleashes the full potential and brilliance of a team.
1. Unleashes energy
When a vision stems from the innermost values and beliefs of the people, it generates a tremendous excitement, a compelling spirit, and a powerful level of engagement.
2. Kindles Commitment
Seeing a strong relationship between the team’s vision and what they personally believe in and care deeply about kindles a passionate commitment.
3. Provides Perspective
A vision illuminates the team’s purpose so that all members are completely clear about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how their work relates to what they personally believe in. Members see themselves as part of a larger whole and they see where they fit in. Day-to-day activities have more meaning because it is clear how they contribute to the greater welfare of the team.
4. Supports Empowerment
When leaders are assured that shared direction and values drive employee decisions, they are more willing to let go of control and let others assume responsibility. Leaders spend less time managing others and day-to-day crises and more time focusing on planning and big picture issues.
5. Sparks Creativity
Creativity flourishes because there is more room for autonomy within the broad guidelines that a shared vision provides. Because everyone knows they each desire the same result and share the same values, they can act more independently without concern for competing self-interest.
6. Triggers Trust
People work together more easily. Because they realize they are not so different from each other, they begin to trust each other’s unique contributions. The organization becomes a partnership, where each person has something to contribute in his or her own way.
7. Stimulates Creative Disagreement
People can argue about ideas without fear of it leading to damaging personality conflicts and without fear of ridicule and exclusion.
8. Encourages Proactive Action
Instead of passively waiting for direction, people at all levels take proactive action because they share truly responsibility for their team’s future.
What could your team accomplish if you had a shared vision?
Jesse, I am a founding board member of the Professional Coaches Association of Michigan. We had very humble beginnings almost 8 years ago, but the experience was magical and exactly as you describe. Two people began and their vision spread and morphed into something that lasts yet today. We felt a deep connection to our purpose and vision, and somehow everyone pitched in (without pay or benefits, I might add) and it all came together. Thanks for making what I saw happen implicitly, explicit.
Thanks so much, Mary Jo, for adding another beautiful description of the magic a team experiences when they are deeply committed to a shared vision.
In reading this it reminded me of my younger childhood years as a New York Knicks fan who had to endure all those losses to Russell’s Celtics. I would like to note though that the Knicks won the NBA title in 1970….ending the Celtics streak : )
I was also wondering your thoughts about Russell describing his individual experience of being in the zone that doesn’t include his teammates, other than how they are included in his story. With vision being about shared, compelling, unifying images of the future, how does that fit with Russell’s individual experience?
Hi Jake, I appreciate your commenting, especially since you were experiencing those games from the other side. Although I think it’s possible to appreciate one’s adversary if the competition is well played. The question you raise is a good one. I think what Russell is doing is giving us a detailed description of his own personal experience of what alignment feels like. That’s what I really like about it. It’s one of the most vivid descriptions I’ve read. This is not an individually focused sport like baseball. It involves sustained active interaction. Russell says, “It would surround not only me and the other Celtics, but also the players on the other team, and even the referees.” I especially appreciate his description that he would put out the maximum effort and not feel competitive in the normal way he usually experienced it. Although we don’t know whether the others also felt the magic, I suspect they did because a real vision creates a larger perspective and includes everyone it touches.
It’s an awesome high you get from being in the zone, when you just seem to be in some form of remote control you are not driving, but it all just works. I never forget playing a game called 30 seconds (not sure if you are familiar with the game) and my wife and I were in the same team. She was trying to describe the movie Aladin to us, and started singing the theme song to Beauty and The Beast by mistake. Within a split second, I thought of Aladin and answered Aladin, somehow not hearing the wrong theme song she sang. It was the joke of the night as to how in tune we were, considering her clue was way off, yet resonated with me. To this day, moments like that really WOW me, as you do get in synch with your team mates creating extra-ordinary results.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Thabo. Another wonderful example!
All the elements you mention build upon one another. One example…unleashed energy and creativity lead make it much easier for a team to take proactive action.
Absolutely true. They are synergistic. Thanks for pointing that out, Kent.