Rob Paterson quotes William Manchester, describing why he jumped hospital ship to rejoin his wartime unit and face near-certain death:

And then, in one of those great thundering jolts in which a man’s real motives are revealed to him in an electrifying vision, I understood at last, why I had jumped hospital 35 years ago and, in violation of orders, returned to the front line and almost certain death.

It was an act of love.

Those men on the line were my family and my home. They were closer to me than I can say, closer than my friends had been or ever would be. They had never let me down and I couldn’t do it to them. I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have survived them.

Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, the the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction. They fight for each other. Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or whom he is willing to die for, is not a man at all. He is truly dammed.

Rob was prompted by his frustration with a discussion about teamwork. A discussion that sounded like it focussed on the sort of abstractions Manchester’s insight confronts.

I’m with Rob on this. I often feel bored of the sports team analogies about teams. I distrust generalisations like “great teams have to agree on a common goal” (values/mission etc etc). I’ve been in a few teams that have worked well and it struck me that they were made up of diverse people, each of whom was pursuing something different. An agreement on missions and goals for such teams could be half-hearted. It could be a denial of what really motivates the participants and of the value of diversity. Yes, you can rationalise out the differences but you then end up with… well the sort of bland platitudes that permeate most mission statements.

No, I think Manchester evokes a rather braver and deeper truth: it’s about love. This reminds me of the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, offered in a comment by Alex Kjerulf

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but Iwould give my life for for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

I’m not saying this needs to be love on the scale described by Manchester. it may be an everyday variety that means we humans want to play together. By reducing this to a series of statements on a piece of paper risks missing the point entirely. Or am I overstating the case?

2 thoughts on “Teams

  1. Earl Mardle

    You have it.

    Now, all you have to do is reduce it to a 7 bullet point (plus or minus 2)powerpoint presentation on “best practise in corporate love” and you’ll have the next big thing in BPR.


    Here’s mine

    Turn Up





    Ask for help

    Repeat until someone else asks you to help them because you l;ook like you know what you are doing.


  2. Kris Olsen

    The problem with most teams I’ve been on is that it is, in fact, left to the team to define and agree on the mission. Missions should be decided first and then used to define the team.


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