Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately as the calendar changed from 2005 - 2006. And it may be no surprise to learn (in this election year) that teamwork is one topic very ‘top of mind’ these days.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This old bromide doesn’t mean that one hundred $1 bills are any more valuable than a single $100 bill; they aren’t. It’s meant to apply elsewhere.

$100 billBenjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers (and the man whose face actually appears on the $100 bill), said, “We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

As a current example: a football team has eleven players. Though there are eleven people on a team, the value and ability of the team as a whole is much greater than the skill of each individual player simply multiplied by eleven. In fact, the greatest contribution a player can make is to cause the team to play better.

The late Vince Lombardi, championship NFL football coach, knew this principle inside and out. He said, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society … Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”[1]

Unfortunately, though a coach may work tirelessly to get a team to play better together, the players don’t always care about the team.

Phil Jackson, NBA coach for the L.A. Lakers, former coach of the Chicago Bulls, said, “Despite their tremendous talent, [NBA players] are still, by and large, young adults, seeking validation from an authority figure, and there is no greater authority figure on a team than the coach. Needless to say, in today's warped, self-indulgent climate, too many players couldn't care less about appeasing the coach.”[2]

Clearly this sentiment also applies to the players’ perspective of the team, and this is a primary component of much of what is faltering in America right now.

No particular group has a definitive monopoly on this. It is a systemic cultural problem brought on by years of separating ourselves from each other.

If we apply the football team analogy to America, we could (for simplicity’s sake) have a team comprised of: atheists, blacks, Christians, Democrats, executives, farmers, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, Republicans, and whites—plus 50 other players on the sidelines, dressed and ready to take the field. But how well are we playing as a team? How effective are we at running the ball across the goal line? And who exactly is our opponent?

More often than not, it seems, especially with the players we’ve chosen here, that each member of America’s team may be more interested in how many yards he gained for himself today than how the team is playing as a whole, or how much time is left on the clock.

This isn’t an indictment; it’s an observation I had while reading a newspaper. And this example obviously isn’t practical; it’s representational. But now think of an office staff as a team; or a hospital staff of doctors and nurses; or the U.S. Congress. Now the players are much more closely identified with the example above.

Like it or not, we’re all in this together. If we continue to play the game separately, we’ll lose. Only when we band together will we continue to win, and enjoy one championship after another.

Ben Franklin was also the first president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.[3] And more than two centuries ago he joined John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in recommending as our nation’s motto: E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for ‘out of many, one’.

E Pluribus Unum remains our national motto to this day, appearing in the Great Seal of the United States.[4]Great Seal of the United States

[1] Source: www.vincelombardi.com
[2] Source: The Sporting News, Oct 28, 2005, by Sean Deveney
[3] America’s first abolitionist organization
[4] Officially adopted by the U.S. Congress on June 20, 1782


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