Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Power of Teamwork

Lessons in life come to you from places you least expect.

On the first weekend of February this year, my son, Rudraditya participated in a Taekwondo tournament, his first ever, and got a silver medal. Taekwondo is a martial art originating in Korea. It combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and in some cases meditation and philosophy. Pretty excited about it, he was too.  Wouldn’t take the medal off the rest of the day and would show it to everyone that we came across. I was however a little less excited than would be expected. Aditya had done remarkably well in the more difficult wooden block breaking part of the tournament and will little or no practice managed even to break a wooden block with a kick. But when it came to the comparatively easier act of demonstrating taekwondo steps, he missed a few, which cost him the gold.

Finally against my better judgment I told him that he could have won gold if he had focused more. He and a friend of his who was also there at that instant cried out in near unison – But our teacher tells winning is not important participation is.  They then went back to playing, paying no heed to the speechless dad, with a gaping open mouth, staring in their wake.

I was truly rendered speechless. For I realized the enormity of the mistake that I was making – Not only had I come really close to depriving my son of the joy of the moment, but what was even worse, that I was projecting a rat mentality onto him that I always boasted of being free of.  Luckily he turned out to be way smarter than his old man. And there by hung a tale.

If I have learnt one thing over the years is that success in any endeavor comes not so much from patchy flashes of brilliance as it does to deep and sustained commitment from a team. Flashes of brilliance and inspiration have their place no doubt, for they act as flares that suddenly light up the path ahead and momentarily afford us a glimpse of what lies ahead. However to make progress in that path what is needed is a team that commits itself to the journey and bring their diverse skills together for a common cherished goal. Committed participation in my vocabulary is synonymous to teamwork and endeavors from the simplest to the greatest have succeeded primarily because of committed participation. And a true leader is one who understands the secret of making teamwork happen. The profile of a true leader is not one who looks to slave drive people but one who brings about self-realization to individuals in the team. Realization about their own uniqueness and talents. Realization about the importance of the work they do and that others in the team do. They push people, but not get people to stumble but to excel. Finally a true leader gets people to collaborate. They are often fun folks to be around.

However perhaps the biggest characteristic of a winning team, leader included, is a belief in the higher goal, being charged with a vision, a purpose. History stands witness how our freedom was won by sustained and committed participation of the common man who worked as a team for a good that was way greater than individual aspirations. Similarly the grandeur of the pyramids, the breathtaking beauty of the Khajuraho temples or mesmerizing charm of the Taj would have never come to being without teamwork.

Each of these wonders needed a long term vision on part of everyone who was involved, needed courage, a willingness to put in time, learn and finally contribute to the common cause. It needed hard work.

The lesson that I now think my little Aditya learnt that day, and taught me as a bonus, was the power of committed participation. On the larger scheme of things a Gold medal wouldn’t have made an iota of more difference. For what he had learnt that day was the joy of participation in a team sport, where no doubt individuals get applauded for doing well, but the overall team score depends on how everyone in the team performs. The short huddle that all the kids, between six and ten years, got to after the tournament, in their cute childlike way to scream in delight, show each other their medals and prizes and promises made to practice more for the next tournament has set the base for long term success.
For it is always Teamwork that succeeds…

Recently I wrote this for the monthly newsletter at work and thought it should show up in my blog as well...  :)