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Symbols of Great Teams

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Jim Collins (author of How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In) had a famous line: "Good is the enemy of great." Those six words neatly sum up the need for a passion for excellence required for any team or organization to reach world-class standards. However, this is an abstract concept and difficult to keep front and center on a day-to-day basis.

Symbolism can be an important part of this motivation as is constant positive reinforcement.

University of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz put up a sign that each team member touches before entering the field. It simply reads: "Play like a champion today." With its appearance, team performance "magically" improved--and the sign is now a legendary icon of the university.

Easy implementation: Copy the sign and put it in your stairwells--maybe it is truly magical.

Tougher implementation: Come up with your own symbolism.


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"Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce." - Deming (one of his fourteen points)
"These never helped anybody do a good job. Let people put up their own slogans." - Mary Walton The Deming Management Method.

The main difference I see between a school sports team and a project team is in the person of the coach. Coaches are decades older than the team members. Their knowledge has resulted from years of study, trial and error and mentoring they have received for the great coaches they had along the way. The players are students, just learning. The relationship is that of master and apprentice. Slogans are appropriately given by the coach. With project teams, on the other hand, all are professionals in their own right. Many may have more years experience than the project manager. It would be inappropriate for a project manager to borrow a "magic slogan" and impose it on the team. This would be easily interpreted as manipulation and would be disrespectful. However, it could be given as a suggestion, but only in a healthy, participative environment.

This is moral sense driving the human kinds to the excellence. It is simply found at many believers zones. For example India; three symbols are place at the same office or working area for Islam, Christine, and Hindu. People believe in the master power and act strongly in accordance to this believe. Teams and/or communities can be improved impressively (magically) when believe in super power.

Agree with you on this. I use "Learn like a Student and execute like a Master".

While such phrases may work well for a narrowly focused team, such as a sports team, approach these with caution for business. For technology teams in particular, motivational quotes can be perceived as manipulative. A phrase one individual finds heartwarming another finds annoying. A leader needs to understand each individual when selecting a team symbol. The site despair.com features artwork that captures the cynicism "demotivators" that can result as a backlash from a poorly chosen or management-imposed symbol.

Agree with you. I have used some motivating quotes on the wall of my project team. But I really liked the idea of Lou Holtz. Thanks for sharing.

I use "Make each day a masterpiece". I first saw this on a Tom Peters slide. I think he attributed it to John Woodward of Cirque Du Soliel.

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