Chris Hirst: There’s Lots of ‘I’s in Team

No team is homogenous; each one is made up of individual elements, says the author of No Bullsh*t Leadership and the global CEO of Havas Creative.

by Chris Hirst
chris hirst

Mike Brearley is one of the most successful (and most enigmatic) of England cricket captains. To the uninitiated cricket is a baffling sport, yet its adherents obsess over its endless variations and layers of complexity. It is almost unique in that it is a team sport played out through a series of deeply personal and individual duels. A trained psychoanalyst, Brearley has throughout his life studied, from both the inside and the outside, the construction and leadership of successful teams. 

‘One could almost say,’ states Brearley in On Form, ‘a [successful] team is an individual. Each team has its own character, style, demeanour … It has its characteristic weaknesses or vulnerabilities, as well as strengths … The team is an individual greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the individual is a team, with many of the qualities of teams, a composite.’ 

Just as Newton showed that white light is a combination of a spectrum of colours, Brearley encourages us to consider the members of our teams (and indeed ourselves) as a mix of individual elements: strengths, interests, weaknesses, prejudices, beliefs and desires. We too appear to be a homogeneous whole, but are in effect a blend. As when white light is filtered through a prism different colours become visible, so we, at different times, in different situations and in different cultures behave and think differently. In this way, an effective leader creates a culture that rewards (emotionally and physically) the behaviours, beliefs and actions that most effectively help the team achieve their goal.

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