Teamwork is the Difference Between Success and Failure

Although teamwork usually isn’t a life-or-death situation, it often spells the difference between success and failure in business.

A company with many talented employees working separately isn’t nearly as successful as one where talented workers work together and believe in the mission.

Colin Powell tells a story about Napoleon Bonaparte. The French general would occasionally mingle with his troops. Bonaparte would ask the lowest-ranking soldier to state the overall mission of the army. Bonaparte believed that if the mission were clear, the soldier would be able to understand and explain it.

A successful team knows its mission, whether it’s to rescue nine trapped miners or to be the best data mining company in the business. The team leaders must keep the group focused on the mission.

Leaders can also bring out the desire and passion in the members of a team. The leader arouses passion and helps put fire in the members’ bellies. As Price Pritchett said, “Once you’ve pointed people in the right direction, and triggered a powerful internal drive, you need to get the hell out of the way.”

Joe Gibbs, the former football coach who now oversees a Winston Cup racing team, knows a great deal about team building. In his book, Racing to Win, Gibbs discussed the difficulties of building a team when you’re motivating people with very different personalities. Some are motivated by praise, while others need to be scolded from time to time.

Most of us work harder when we’re working as a team. We know others are depending on us and we don’t want to let them down. You should feel that same sense of obligation, whether it’s a coworker or the members of your family who are depending on you. If you don’t feel that sense of obligation to your employer, you need to find another place to work.


Have you ever looked up to watch a flock of honking geese flying overhead and wondering why they always fly in a ‘V’ formation? Have you every thought of these geese as role models?

Milton Olson, author of Lessons from Geese, makes a compelling case that five behaviors of geese during migration can be translated into leadership lessons for our lives.

1. First behavior: “As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an ‘uplift’ for the bird following. By flying in a ‘V’ formation, the whole flocks adds 71% greater flying range than if the bird flew alone.”

First lesson: “People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.”

2. Second Behavior: “Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the ‘lifting power’ of the bird immediately in front.”

Second Lesson: “If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go (and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to the others).”

3. Third Behavior: “When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position.”

Third Lesson: “It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership—with people, as with geese, we are interdependent on each other.

4. Fourth Behavior: “The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.”

Fourth Lesson: “We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging—and not something else.”

5. Fifth Behavior: “When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or catch up with the flock.”

Fifth Lesson: “If we have as much sense as geese, we too will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.”

Successful people have great team-building skills. They know they’ll go twice as far with a good team surrounding them. The best team players are positive, creative and have good interpersonal skills.

To remind you of the power of team unity, the next time your hear that all-too-familiar honking and look up at the sky to see geese heading south for the winter while flying in the striking ‘V’ formation, you should remember why they fly that way and the valuable lessons we can learn from them about leadership and teamwork.

Become part of a team and then build your own!

10 Responses to “Teamwork is the Difference Between Success and Failure”

  1. March 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm, Shawne Duperon said:

    Love it. Brilliant…

  2. March 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm, Oliver Nguyen said:

    Honking for encouragement!

  3. March 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm, Rob Tee said:

    This true. In nothing are we alone in this world. We live together with other people they depend on us, and we depend on them whether we want to admit or not.

  4. March 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm, Rex Dow said:

    Absolutely right Charlie

  5. March 28, 2013 at 4:18 pm, Harold Gardner said:

    First heard this in a sermon illustration about the church needing to work together. Still brilliant.

  6. March 28, 2013 at 11:14 pm, David said:

    Great article Charile

  7. March 28, 2013 at 11:21 pm, Miriam Slozberg (@msmir) said:

    OMG awesome, love the article. thanks.

  8. March 28, 2013 at 11:34 pm, marc said:

    Nothing gets done without teamwork! Good stuff.

  9. March 29, 2013 at 1:04 am, K Wittenburg said:

    Another Excellent Article Charlie. Teamwork makes or breaks an organization.

  10. March 30, 2013 at 7:08 am, Tracy Kauffman said:

    I wished companies would teach a class on teamwork, it would make things run smoother.

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