Standing On The Side Of Love In Statesboro, Georgia

Presented at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro on December 17, 2001

When I first agreed to speak on this date a few weeks ago, I didn’t have a topic. That same Sunday, however, I realized that today would the Sunday after the National Championship Game. Now at the time I didn’t know that we’d be IN the game and I didn’t know the Blue Devils would be in the state championship game either, but nevertheless, I felt the topic of “BIG TEAM – little me” might be appropriate. A lot of what I’m sharing with you today is based on a chapter on Read World Teams that I wrote for an edited book on Teaming in the Middle Schools published in 1997. For the purpose of the message today, I’ve divided my remarks into five areas.

  • The conception of the BIG TEAM / little me philosophy
  • Real World Teams
  • Good Teams & Bad Teams
  • Team Leadership
  • A Winning Concept

Erk Russell was the Assistant Head Football Coach at the University of Georgia in 1980, the year the Georgia Bulldogs won the national championship. In his 1991 autobiography, Coach Russell provided several reasons for the success of the 1980 Bulldogs:

We had Herschel Walker. We had a lot of good players. The kicking game was good. The offense and defense made timely plays. We did so many good things. Yet, deep down, I really and truly believe our guys became a TEAM because five good seniors…caused “The Hog Incident” to take place in the spring that year (Russell, 1991, p. 91).

Coach Russell shared the story in which five seniors were caught as ringleaders in a mischievous activity conducted for the “benefit” of the team. It seems that it was a long standing tradition for some of the Alumni to host a barbeque complete with a pig in the ground for the players each year. Well, the NCAA had tightened up on such activity and the players were told that there would be no barbeque that year. Well, you know how athletes are about “traditions” so they felt they had to take matters into their own hands to keep that tradition alive. Now of course, the main ingredient for this barbeque was a pig and these team leaders had no trouble locating a fine specimen since UGA is an agricultural school. Well, they were found out and made to pay dearly for it with extra non-compensated work during the summer. It seems that the entire team sought ways to support these seniors who had done so much for them and a new sense of unity was inspired. Head Coach Vince Dooley attempted to extend this unity to the playing field. Coach Russell reported:

During spring practice of 1980, Coach Dooley made it a point every day during squad meetings to emphasize the importance of TEAM play as opposed to individual play. If the TEAM was successful, each individual player would be successful. If the TEAM won, everyone was a winner. There is enough for everybody when the TEAM does well. The theme was TEAM and he did an outstanding job of getting their attention focused on that point (p. 91).

Coach Russell sought to emphasize the theme in a more concrete manner.

. . . during the summer I designed the first ‘TEAM-me’ t-shirts. (The word ‘TEAM’ was very large, with the word ‘me’ in very small letters underneath.) Every player became a walking picture of the theme (p.91).

In 1981, Erk Russell brought the theme to Georgia Southern University to build a football team “from scratch.” Georgia Southern players wore the TEAM-me t-shirts and practiced that philosophy. By the time Coach Russell retired in 1989, his teams had won three I-AA National Championships!

The sports arena has been the typical setting for the team concept, perhaps because athletics can be so cleanly divided into “individual sports” and “team sports.” Additionally, the “goals” do not have to be “envisioned” since they usually involve real objects in real places. The individuals on the team have as a common purpose the achievement of that goal. This unification is so complete that the members even wear the same clothing. The boundaries and rules are clear in sports and officials are designated (and have the authority) to reinforce the boundaries and rules. The timeframes are also clear. You know when you’ve begun and you know when you’re done. The “plays” are completely synchronized and everyone must do his or her part for the play to be successful. And so, it is on the playing field (and on the scoreboard) that we can quickly observe the results of good teamwork or poor teamwork. However, businesses, industries, government associations, and other organizations have also learned that the team concept far surpasses the results of striving for and rewarding individual efforts.

Real World Teams

What are teams? Dyer (1977) succinctly defined teams as “collections of people who must rely on group collaboration if each member is to experience the optimum of success and goal achievement” (p. 4). Teamwork, of course, is not a new concept. However, Americans have tended to keep teamwork in its place. Where is that place? According to Wellins, Byham, and Wilson (1991), it is “on playing fields, in films, and through the use of stale cliches” (p. 5). In their book entitled Empowered Teams, these authors deliberate on the reasons for the suppression of real teamwork.

We may talk about the value of teamwork with our children, but much of the real world they see is oriented toward the individual. We are proud of our children when they hit home runs; we urge students to compete for individual recognition through high grades. And when work begins, performance systems continue to reward individual accomplishments. All through life we celebrate the individual (p. 5).

And indeed, American organizations have traditionally been arranged with top-down leadership, direct control management, and individualized rewards. Many experts indicate that this work philosophy can be attributed to Frederick Taylor, the father of modern industrial engineering. At the turn of the century, he recommended that the best way to run manufacturing organizations was to provide standardized activities that workers could do in simple, repetitive tasks and then closely supervise them (Taylor, 1947). The assembly line idea seemed ready-made for an American work force that included many poorly educated immigrants. And, indeed, the work production was deemed efficient. However, all effects were not positive.

In a culture based on independence, an ironic thing happened. Many workers were forced to surrender their independence and the freedom they had enjoyed as members of small, craft-based teams. The captains of industry operated on a model that was large scale, high volume, and machine paced. Central control became more important than individual autonomy. Power reverted back into the hands of a few leaders, and workers gave up control and ownership of their work in the move toward a new way of getting things done. Although centralizing power may have made sense at the time, the regrettable result was a loss of worker empowerment (Wellins, Byham, & Wilson, 1991, p. 7).

American organizations using high-control management began to lose some of their competitive edge as experiments began in other countries that facilitated more self-direction and teamwork. In fact, the semiautonomous team idea originated in the late 1940s in experiments at British coal mines. Behavioral scientists at London’s Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, led by Eric Trist…concluded that industry needed a new paradigm of work organization. Trist and his co-experimenters developed the “socio-technical systems” or STS concept of work design which calls for the involvement of workers whenever possible in planning a new or redesigned plant. The STS concept moved from Britain to Norway and Sweden. Volvo used the concept in designing its plant at Kalmar, Sweden, which began operating in 1974. The work force at this plant is divided into about 20 production teams with each team assembling a major unit of a car in an average of 20 minutes to 40 minutes. The company reports that production costs at Kalmar are 25% lower than at Volvo’s conventional plants (Hoerr & Pollock, 1986).

While the STS concept in Europe had as its major emphasis plant design (therefore affecting work relationships after the design), the Quality Circle movement in Japan became a stimulus for investigating alternative strategies focused on the quality of the product. According to Nonaka (1993), this movement in Japan actually began long before the words “Quality Circle” became associated with it. In her article, “The History of the Quality Circle,” Nonaka Placed its conception before World War II when quality control pioneers existed in some Japanese companies. Then seminars on statistical quality control were provided to engineers in 1950 by W. Edwards Deming, an American whose ideas were not so readily adopted here. With this foundation, Japanese companies established Quality Control departments. The Japanese workers were surprised at the success of the techniques and tried to increasingly use them. However, they found that some alterations needed to be made to actually fit the Japanese workplace. The Quality Circle was conceived as a part of these alterations. The increase in quality of products made in Japan and services rendered was remarkable.

The circle or team concept really didn’t move forward in the United States until the mid 1960’s to early 1970’s with pioneering groups like the Procter & Gamble Company and the Gaines dog food plant in Topeka, Kansas (Ketchum, 1984). Wellins et al. (1991) reported that the movement began to spread “like wildfire” in the late 1980’s. Since the mid ’80’s, scores of pattern-setting organizations have adopted the concept including industrial manufacturers such as General Electric, Ford, most GM divisions, and Westinghouse. High tech companies including Xerox, Honeywell, and Digital Equipment have also made the move. Service industries (e.g. Shenandoah Life) and governmental and educational organizations have followed, some more cautiously than others. Although many of the original borrowed concepts (e.g. Quality Circles) have been modified and renamed, the basic movement toward the team approach appears to be alive and well.

Good Teams / Bad Teams

In their book, Teamwork: What Must Go Right, What Can Go Wrong (1989), Carl Larson and Frank LaFasto described factors determined through their interviews and investigations that were important for a team’s success. They reported that the interviewees in their sample consistently said that it was imperative to include the right people.

All too often, people are chosen as team members for the wrong reasons. “Harry should be on the team because he’s interested in the topic.” Or, “Bill’s feelings would be hurt if he were left off.” Or, “Mary should be included because she reports to Bill.” These may be important considerations, but they don’t necessarily lead to successful teams. Instead, what should be paramount is selecting people who are best equipped to achieve the team’s objective (p. 59).

Two types of competencies are identified by Larson and LaFasto: “(1) the necessary technical skills and abilities to achieve the desired objective and (2) the personal characteristics required to achieve excellence while working well with others” (p. 62). The first type is more easily defined by team builders and more easily evaluated. However, these technical skills differ from team to team depending on the purpose and objectives. Larson and LaFasto indicate that it is critical first to know what the critical technical skills are, and second to know what the necessary balance of those skills should be. After these are defined, team builders can select individuals who show competence and expertise in these areas. The second type, personal competencies, refers to the qualities, skills, and abilities necessary for the individual team members to function as a team. These characteristics are often overlooked by those who are responsible for the selection of team members. The result may be a group of people with high technical skills working individually in different directions. Ruth Rothstein, CEO of Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, summarized the problem:

One person who doesn’t work well with others can set the team off into oblivion. One person like this can ruin a team. When that happens, you give feedback to that individual and help them make the necessary changes. But if they can’t adapt, then you have an obligation to remove them from the team. Otherwise, the rest of the team can become pretty resentful (Larson & LaFasto, 1989, p. 71).

Red Auerbach, the former coach and general manager of one of America’s most successful sports franchises, the Boston Celtics, provided this explanation.

I’ve turned down a lot of trades where I might have gotten a better player, but I wasn’t totally sure of the chemistry of that new player coming in. Even though he might possess golden ability, his personality and the way he gets along with teammates might be things you just don’t want to cope with (Webber, 1992, pp. 58-59).

The personal characteristic that is often hardest to define but most important in the success of the team is commitment. This is the quality sometimes referred to as “team spirit.” Coach Erk Russell would describe this factor as dedication to the BIG TEAM-little me philosophy. It is a very intense identification with a group of people. Jim Lynch, captain of the 1966 championship Notre Dame football team, described the commitment on the Notre Dame team:

When I was captain of the team I took it so damn seriously it’s unbelievable. To this day I still believe that’s the greatest honor I ever had in playing. I made All-American, All-Pro, and won the Maxwell trophy, but those things never meant as much to me as being captain of that football team. I believed in it so much; I believed in the people who were there; and I believed in Notre Dame. . . . It was kind of a magical time. It was a time when everybody worked their hind end off. I can hardly explain it, but it really was a group of guys that believed in what they were doing. The coach instilled that. He took a team that was two and seven my freshman year, and the next year {1964} we went nine and one and almost won the national championship. . . . We had the players, we were coached so well, and we believed so much in what we were doing. You would have kids that would get hurt in the middle of a game and would literally crawl off the field so they wouldn’t have to call time out. It wasn’t like that was a big deal, that’s just what you naturally did. I never felt that again with any other team. Amazing stuff (Larson & LaFasto, 1989, pp. 73-74).

When team members are not committed, the results are efforts in futility. John Brodic, president of United Paperworkers Local 448, expressed his lack of commitment to the team concept in this quote attributed to him in Business Week:

What the company wants is for us to work like the Japanese. Everybody go out and do jumping jacks in the morning and kiss each other when they go home at night. You work as a team, rat on each other, and lose control of your destiny. That’s not going to work in this country (Hoerr, 1989. p. 56).

Brodic and other critics of employee team involvement in the auto industry, however, are outnumbered by their fellow union members who favor the changes. Through their input, the team concept in the United States has become one that increases workers’ autonomy and assists management in making decisions at higher levels.

The focus on commitment to the team is reinforced by Wellins et al. (1991) in their identification of key factors in team development. These factors (commitment, trust, purpose, communication, involvement, and process orientation) are not developed by teams overnight. Teams go through stages of trial and error, bumps and bruises, and roller coaster excursions as they work to attain the level of an empowered, self-directed team. A breakdown in any of these areas can result in an unsuccessful team. As teams develop, evaluation of these areas will provide the feedback needed for team maturation and success.

Team Leadership or “Put Me in, Coach”

Teams may eventually take over many of the jobs traditionally reserved for managers and supervisors. As these teams assume more responsibility, the roles of managers change. This may be a difficult transition for many managers to make.

After all, we have been taught that leadership is reserved for the “elite” few and that the leaders of our organizations make the difference, not the people on the floor or in the back office. Just look at the dozens of books written in the past decade that have exalted leadership. We spend our entire careers trying to climb up the organizational ladder–not down (Wellins et al., 1991, p. 128).

According to most experts, the role of the leader is not eliminated, but it does, indeed, change. But change to what? This question was emphasized by Fred Emery in his 1980 article related to socio-technical systems.

The role of the foreman is so central to the traditional authoritarian system, that the first question to ask of any proposed scheme for the democratization of work is, “What does it do to the foreman’s role?” If it leaves that role intact, then the scheme is fraudulent (p. 21).

Twenty years later, many organizations are still dealing with this concern. Most are realizing that the new leader works to encourage and coach fellow workers to internalize and self-manage much of the control imposed previously by managers and other supervisors. Wellins et al. (1991) recommended that organizations involve managers and supervisors in the change process.

Moving supervisors and managers into new roles is best done with them rather than to them…. (For example) Adolph Coors Company’s brewery warehouse operation firmly believed that the team concept did not mean doing away with leadership. As a result, it relied heavily on supervisors to create empowered work teams. In essence, these supervisors led the change (p. 139).

The BIG TEAM-little me philosophy is especially important for leadership personnel to develop. Studies by Larson & LaFasto (1989) indicated that the most effective leaders were those who subdued their ego cravings in favor of the team’s goal.

Whether it was in the context of college or professional football, mountain climbing, cardiac surgery, project teams, or executive management teams, the following observation held true: Effective leaders bring out the leadership in others. Effective leaders give team members the self-confidence to act, to take charge of their responsibilities, and make changes occur rather than merely perform assigned tasks. In short, leaders create leaders (p. 128).

Bosses, a 1986 book written by Jim Wall, provides stories told by leaders in a variety of fields. In many of the scenarios, the leader would share his or her transformation from a traditional supervisor to a facilitator and coach. Often times, that transformation took place in a Quality Circle.  These leaders have discovered the joy of using “power-with” rather than “power-over” his subordinates. Graham (1991) described the advantages of the “power-with” philosophy as compared to “power-over” and “power-sharing.”

It stems from the pooling of powers. By pooling, no one is giving any of his own away. When a car breaks down, its driver is not able alone to move it to the curb. A helpful person comes along, adds his weight to the driver’s and the car is on the curb in a couple of minutes. There has been no sharing of powers. The separate powers of the two persons have been pooled together to create the joint power which moves the car. Pooling increases total power. By pooling powers, we get not only the addition of the separate powers but also something extra, the extra value created through their joint interaction (p. 114).

Effective leadership facilitates the fundamental change to the team concept. Leaders help members feel connected by assisting them in understanding the mission or vision of the entire team. They provide feedback which leads to team members becoming more confident in their abilities. They encourage individuals to take risks for the sake of the team. If they lead well, team members will not realize the leader’s contribution. Instead they will say, “we did it ourselves.” An example of this type of leadership is provided in a story told by Red Auerbach of an interaction between himself and Bill Walton which made a difference.

One day he told me he was down in the dumps. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he didn’t feel like he was contributing to the team. I told him, “Of course you’re contributing.” “But I’m not scoring,” he said. “That’s the trouble with you,” I said. “You’re worried about statistics.”

I told him that we didn’t care about what he scored. All we were interested in was what he contributed. Did he roll down? Did he play defense? Did he run the court? Did he pass?

He asked, “You mean you really don’t care about scoring?” I told him, “Not at all. It won’t affect you one iota.”

You could see his face light up. And from that point on, he was a different guy. He was always great to begin with, but this made him even better. He became loose. And he never looked to see what he scored. All he looked at was, did we win. And it was “we,” not “I” (Webber, 1992, p. 64).

A Winning Concept

What lessons can religious organizations like ours learn from teaming experiences in non-religious settings? Certainly many of the factors that have proven to be effective in business, industry, and athletics are also factors that are important in churches or other religious organizations. I’ll share three today:

1. Develop members who have not only the technical skills needed for working with the team, but also the personal characteristics for positive intergroup relations. We need to continue to have religious education for children and adults which emphasize intergroup relations.

2. Everyone on the UUFS team should have a role which is important for the success of the team. And, each team member needs to be accountable for his or her role. This is a lesson that has been reinforced by cooperative learning research conducted in schools. In this research, Slavin (1995) and others have stressed the importance of cooperative learning which utilizes positive interdependence and individual accountability.

3. The officers, board members and committee chairs should develop a commitment to gaining “power with” other members. The initial step is for the leadership to recognize the power, influence, and abilities that members already have. By pooling their resources, members will be able to realize their goals more efficiently and effectively.

Although, there are many implications from these non-church settings, it is important for our members to realize that much of the discourse may not be applicable. Fellowship members and the communities they serve are not “products” that are designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold. Of course, research (including that by the Bookings Institution) indicates that if the bottom lineis the product, teams are a winning concept. . But most organizations have also found that the by-product of human development has become as important and profound as the increase in productivity. And of course, human development is more than a by-product here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.

Coach Erk Russell understood the importance if relationships in team leadership. Several years ago, Coach Russell was asked how he motivated his teams. He responded by talking about caring. “I believe that if you really care about the players, and they know that you care about them, they will do their best to be the best they can be.” The team concept is a winning concept because it’s based on relationships. And when it comes down to the real bottom line here at UU, it’s ALL about relationships; relationships with other people, with other powers that may be, and with the world of which we are a part

In closing, let me share with you how fortunate I am to be a part of this team. Because I’ve finally found a team that plays on the field of love. And I say, “Go team!”


Dryer, W. D. (1977). Team building: Issues and alternatives. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.Emery, F. E. (1980). Designing socio-technical systems for green field sites. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 3, 19-27.

Graham, P. (1991). Integrative management: Creating unity from diversity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Hoerr, J. (1989, July 10). The payoff from teamwork. Business Week, pp. 56-62.

Hoerr, J., & Pollock, M. A. (1986, September 29). Management discovers the human side of automation. Business Week, pp. 70-77.

Implementing self-directed work teams. Boulder, CO: CareerTrack, 1995.

Ketchum, L. D. (1984). How redesigned plants really work. National Productivity Review, 3, 246-254.

Larson, C. E., & LaFasto, F. M. (1989). Teamwork: What must go right, what can go wrong. London: Sage.

Nonaka, I. (1993, September). The history of the quality circle. Quality Progress, pp. 81-83.

Russell, E., with Mandes, R. (1991). Erk: Football, fans, and friends. Statesboro, GA: Southeastern Sports Marketing.

Slavin, R.E. (1995). Synthesis of Research on Cooperative Learning. Beyond Tracking: Finding Success in Inclusive Schools. Ed. Pool, H. & Page, J. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa, pp. 165-179.

Taylor, F. W. (1947). Scientific management. New York: Harper.

Wall, J. (1986). Bosses. Lexington, MA: Heath.

Webber, A. M. (1992). Red Auerbach on management. In Harvard Business Review’s, Leaders on leadership. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 55-64.

Wellins, R. S., Byham, W. C., & Wilson, J. M. (1991). Empowered teams. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Wiseman, P., Ramon, S., Jones, D, Memmot, M, & Cox, J. (1994, April 8). Meet this year’s quality cup winners. USA Today, pp. B2-B3.

© 2001 Jane A. Page, Statesboro, GA.
All rights reserved.

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