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Team Chemistry – What Is It and How Do I Get It?

Today Auburn is the #1 team in the BCS football poll. Two years ago they had a losing season; last year they started strong then faded in the second half. This year most analysts predicted they could go 9-3 at best and no one predicted they would have the best “team chemistry” in the SEC.

A similar narrative unfolded for Alabama as well. Their three year rise from a losing season culminated with last year’s national championship. Of course, for Alabama, no one would have predicted that the team chemistry they had last year appears to be lacking in this year’s team.

Look at the New Orleans Saints. Same story and same lack of team chemistry in their performance to date. What is the pattern here?

Team chemistry is the rare place in human relations where selfishness checks itself at the door. A pool contains various elements of alkalinity and acidity, and pools are subject to external influences. Teams contain different abilities, talents, backgrounds and even some acerbic personalities; and like a pool Ph balance, equilibrium between self motivation, discipline, and teamwork is a delicate balancing act. Too much self motivation leads to the “All Star Syndrome” of “me first” performance. Too much teamwork and individual strengths can get lost in the heat of battle. Somebody needs to “make a play.” So how do you get and maintain team chemistry?

First, you need a leader. In sports it’s the coach, and in business it’s the CEO. Someone needs to set the goals, develop the plans, recruit the talent, and make the adjustments in the game to insure success. Success is not merely wins or net income; it’s having your team develop and perform to a level greater than their collective individual potential. That’s why coaches, when asked about their best team, will often mention teams that were not their most recognized team.

Next, your leader must develop a plan to succeed in their league and sell others on the vision. “Without hope my people perish”[1], and without hope, discipline alone is usually not enough. That’s why coaches and CEO’s are replaced. Belief is the fuel to move the mountains of the current negative circumstances[2]. Leadership is selling the vision in spite of the current facts.

A leader with a vision still needs talent. Gene Chizik had the same vision at Iowa State and Nick Saban had the same system at Miami. Both initially did relatively poorly at the start of their current coaching positions. Yet, with a plan and a vision, both recruited talent. Does Cam Newton change the team chemistry? How about Mark Ingram or Julio Jones? Did both coaches let some existing talent go? They probably suggested a change of working location for a few team members and assistant coaches. Think of pruning for growth and grafting stronger varietals onto a fruit tree.

Here’s the secret, when new talent is added to the team, the whole team raises their level of performance. Auburn has less “5 star” players than many schools they play, yet thanks to Cam Newton’s performance, the whole team is playing better. And talent attracts talent. Ask Trent Richardson about Mark Ingram’s freshman year performance. Iron sharpens iron.[3]

And the final and hardest element of team chemistry is transferring the vision and belief from the leader to the team. When the team takes ownership of the goals independent of the leader, something magical happens. Everyone is a leader in their performance and yet, the team results matter more than the individual stats. Cam bought Coach Chizik’s plan and took it onto the field. The rest of the team saw it and picked it up. And as long as Cam can avoid the alkaline dose of Heisman hype (remember “Fast and Furious” for Ingram and Richardson before South Carolina), Auburn’s team chemistry will be a force with which to be reckoned. Roll Tide.

Next, Team Chemistry- How do you maintain it?


[1] Proverbs 29:18

[2] Mark 11:24

[3] Proverbs 27:17

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