How I Define Team

My son just started tee ball this past week. It was supposed to be weeks ago but the lovely winter we’re experiencing in Philadelphia saw several practices cancelled due to rain, snow, and a combination thereof.

So I brought Gavin to what was a combination photo day followed by practice for his team – the “A’s.” As is often the case, he was pretty shy when we showed up, hiding behind me as I met the Coach. He was asked what number he wanted for his tee shirt and he didn’t do more than shrug.

Once I was alone with him and he didn’t feel so observed he opened up and when I read a few numbers off to him from shirts in a large box, he jumped on “Lucky 7.” The next thing you know, he quickly tugged the shirt on and let me put his hat on, then ran off to play with some of the other boys.

I have to say, it was shocking that in that little moment, how grown-up he seemed, in just the blink of an eye. As this picture day for the Little League in our area applied to kids of all ages, it was also interesting to see the mix of little guy and bigger boys. I’m certain that if I asked one of the Dads of the older boys, they probably could have recalled their son’s first tee ball experience like it was yesterday. It’s just the way parents are.

Watching #7 run around the playground with his new friends, then gather together with his team for a group photo with the Coach, I thought a lot about my little league experiences growing up. I loved nothing more than finding out what the name of my team was going to be, picking out my number (always 11, come hell or high water), and seeing what friends of mine I would be going to battle with on our field of dreams.

You hear the word “team” thrown around a lot in business, and quite often in agency life. You almost take it for granted, but it is the engine of all good work. When I look around our agency, I don’t see a single person who is like the other. Sure, we have some common likes and dislikes, from shows to food, but on the whole, we are one interesting group – like a bowl of trail mix with tattoos. And I love that.

Though we don’t wear uniforms, and I’d never be one to implement a dress code, it is our individuality that binds us together. I love when we talk about different ideas, creative approaches to an issue, a way to get over a challenge. No one ever holds back, and that’s what makes the work grow and the team stronger. There is not one voice stronger than the other, and there’s never disrespect for even the most far-out idea to improve our agency, our clients, and our creative product. Those are the common threads that make up who we are.

It has not been easy to put together this kind of team, and in 13 years since I started the Cat, I’ve learned a lot on this subject. In the end, if I was to advise anyone on the kind of people that make up an “All-Star Team” in business – and in life – I’d list the following 10 items as must-have characteristics:

No ego but taking lots of pride in their work. Big difference between ego and pride! Ego is self-love and selfishness; pride is confidence in talents and the team.

Great sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves.

The ability to be comfortable in their own skin.

The ability to be themselves at work and not “putting on” a professional personality.

The ability to share even the most random of insights – you never know where great ideas can come from.

Forever inquisitive – questions get answers, and there’s nothing impressive about a know-it-all.

The ability to embrace the unknown – we all get scared, but its people who choose possibility and promise over fear you want in the fox hole with you.

Be all about “we.” Language is a funny thing. When you hear someone pin an “I” onto their work consistently, you know they aren’t as vested in the team as themselves. That person needs to go.

A perpetual suggestion box. Embrace those who are never satisfied and be open to all suggestions. They’ll take you places you’ve never imagined.

Great sense of humor. So important it bears repeating! Agency life can be a pressure cooker but it’s one hell of a fun way to make a living, so lighten up and smile. As I heard long ago, “the sound of innovation is laughter.” Cheers to that!

– P. Madden, Top Cat