LEADERSHIP / TEAMBUILDING

Teamwork H Bomb

On July 16, 1945, in a remote desert location near Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated according to History.com. Less than a month later, the United States employed two of them against Japan to bring World War II to a close. In 1952, the United States exploded the first hydrogen bomb (H-bomb). Again, thanks History.com! H-bombs have never been used in war.

I’m not an atomic scientist but I’m going to give a quick-and-dirty explanation of how they work. Here’s what I digested from this cool website. Atomic bombs (A-bombs) are based on fission which means splitting. When any bomb explodes, it’s essentially a rapid release of energy. A-bombs start with a conventional explosion (like TNT / dynamite) which is carefully engineered to shoot a neutron at the nucleus of another atom. This is called the trigger. The target atom is heavy and splits into lighter atoms. That releases an enormous amount of energy quickly which means big boom and lots of destruction. That’s powerful.

To make an H-bomb, start with an A-bomb. The A-bomb is now the trigger. When it explodes, the pressure and temperature are focused to jam lighter molecules together (thus fusion!). That’s immensely more powerful, thousands and thousands times more than an A-bomb.

The United States Army defines a team as, “any group that functions together to accomplish a mission or perform a collective task. A team’s work is interdependent and team members share responsibility and accountability for attaining results.” p. 7, Army Team Building.

I put that out there because everyone kind of knows what a team is but when you ask someone for a definition, you’ll hear lots of stammering and stumbling. It just takes a little bit to work it out. You can also see the Army’s definition fits a football team, the leaders of a corporation, and the staff at a food pantry. Everyone relies on the others to do their job and the group succeeds or fails together.

In 1965, a guy named Tuckman came up with the four stages of a team: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Here’s a quick refresher if you need it. That’s a great model but it isn’t perfect (no models are which is okay). The reality is that teams often suffer conflict even when they’ve been working together for some time. It would be wonderful if the group would just move through the stages and never look back. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Patrick Lencioni built on the body of knowledge with his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s brilliant. Lencioni talks about constructive conflict and which is different than the storming phase. The only thing constructive about Storming is it gets people settled in as they learn their roles.

Lencioni’s model is rich and deeper than I can address in this article, but constructive conflict comes about when teammates trust one another. This trust isn’t about letting someone hold your wallet; it’s about knowing that everyone is working towards the good of the organization instead of their own personal ends. It’s a beautiful thing.

For teams to unleash the enormous power of fusion in their individual talents and abilities, they need a trigger. Just as an H-bomb needs a fission bomb (A-bomb) trigger to realize it’s true power, so does a team. This trigger is the active, vocal disagreement (splitting of opinions and views) within the team..

When teammates know everyone is working to the same collective end, this debate can be loud and even a little angry. That’s okay because everyone knows they (as a group) all want the best possible solution for the problem at hand. Once the team works through this disagreement, the fission (splitting) is done and the fusion begins.

The group comes together, united in purpose and direction. That’s powerful. Sometimes, a team member just can’t seem to get on board. The leader needs to work hard to hear his objections. If the member still can’t get with the program, the Jeff Bezos’ words of wisdom come to mind.

Bezos asks his team to “disagree and commit” on these occasions. What he’s doing is asking the dissenting member to believe and trust his teammates. That can be hard. But without commitment from each team member, the effort will fail. See Lencioni’s third dysfunction.

If the person can’t do that, well, he shouldn’t let the door hit him in the butt on the way out. Harsh, isn’t it?

Teams are a critical part of the work world in which we live. I’ve been part of many, many teams. They can be horrible, gut-wrenching experiences and they can be things of uplifting, transcendental beauty. It’s the team leader’s job to get the right people on the team and then to get them aligned. When that occurs, you’ll find yourself sitting on a Teamwork H-bomb! Without the heat, destruction, radiation, death, dismemberment, international condemnation, and threat of nuclear retaliation. It’s awesome!

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, taught at West Point, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Amazon pubs.

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