When have you been part of a truly great team?

My students’ blogs this morning are inspiring me as they have begun the discussion about the topics our guest speaker presented on Wednesday night.  What resonated strongly for me was that he said one of the most compelling reasons for joining the Navy Seals was to be a part of a great team.  It made me start to reflect on the truly great teams that I have been honored to be a part of — and at the level of “truly great” there are only three in my long career.

My first great team was at HP where I was a financial analyst, my first job out of the MBA program.  There was a group of about 10 of us who supported product line managers, and many of us were newly minted MBAs.  What made this a great team?  We learned from each other daily.  HP had an office structure where each of us sat at a desks in a large room where we could all see and hear each other.  It was impossible not to listen to the conversations, both business and personal, that went on.   We learned what the most compelling needs were of the people that we all supported, as well as learning the names of each other’s children and their challenges.  We became family.  We collaborated with the IT group and came up with some very innovative approaches to forecasting, all because we were in open space, continually learning and getting to know each other better.  My fondest memories are of our accomplishments, the trust we built, and how we really cared about each other.

My second great team was at Caterair International, a spin-off of Marriott.  A team of six of us were assigned to re-engineer the food production processes and how it was delivered to the airline passengers (those were the days!).  There was no one leader of our team — each of us led at different times.  We had a common vision and a passion to re-engineer operations and re-design the organization to literally save the company in a downward spiraling demand equation.  Because we traveled across the country to work on the front lines with managers and employees, we became a close group.  We knew each other professionally and personally, trusting that we could bring forth very innovative ideas and depending on our project sponsor to give us wide latitude to implement real change in the organization.

My third great team was in the ebusiness strategy consulting practice at IBM.  We were the first strategy consulting group at IBM, and started out with just a few dedicated and zealous consultants who knew that the internet and intranet were going to be seismic shifts in the way businesses operated.  Our assignment was to work with CEOs and CIOs to bring the concepts of the internet and intranet into the strategy of the business.    We were on the leading edge, driven by our vision and commitment, learning from each other round-the-clock.  Every team member was ready at all times to help another — no competition or hoarding of information among team members.  We were a SWAT team, everyone knew where to go to get help.  We had amazingly bright and visionary leadership, and we were working in the fast environment of the dot com boom, where new ideas were being churned out 24/7.  Our clients were P&G, Texas Utilities, Allianz (Germany), Nissan HQ (Tokyo) and many others who wanted to quickly use the internet to change their game.  Every night for hours we debated concepts, ideas, and strategies, enlisting team members around the world.  It was an exhilarating time.  The team members have gone their separate ways, but there is no question that we think of this as a high point in our careers.  It’s unfortunate that IBM couldn’t harness this energy and passion and keep the team together.  My observation of corporations is they are really poor at disbanding teams, maximizing the learning, and keeping the talent engaged.

When have you been part of a truly great team?