• Sean Lewis

Labels are important

Team building is an art of creating collective identity. Naming things is also a function of building identity. Let’s change what we call teams to build better businesses.


Teambuilding & Productivity


One of my closest friends has a banner birthday in a week or so, and it still feels like just yesterday that we first drank our legal beers together.


Like many friendships born during formative years, the strains from distance and families and responsibilities caused pauses in communication that turned from days, to weeks, to years. The pandemic began our recent re-connection, over some business, and it reminded me of an idea I had been mulling over from time to time.


My friend and I spent our earlier years playing music together, touring together, and most relevantly, creating together. We were a great team, but more importantly, we were a band. Through my later work, I have formed or have been a member of many teams, but none as adept at creating, solving problems, or simply getting things done as the ones that felt most like our band.  


For most bands, the inspiration to create and do is not driven by a boss, a manager, or a leader, but from the members themselves. They are intrinsically motivated and, no matter how talented the members, create products that are far greater than the sums of their parts. The collective love of music trumps the individual skills of its members every time to create products that move its fans (customers) and generate lasting emotional attachments.


Teams like this are the holy grail we search for in business, but instead of love, we have become conditioned to begin forming teams based on combinations of behaviors and skills. As a result, business leaders frequently prioritize great assessment tools in the selection of complementary team members then later enlist professional development to dampen conflicts between individuals, which often leads products to be developed more out of coercion than perfection. Bands succeed, despite their volatile natures, because it is innately understood that the product is wholly dependent on contributions from each member, so compromise is an expectation rather than a deprivation.


A band, because it loves what it does, achieves goals on its own. It doesn’t need to be motivated, managed, or incentivized. It is provided a challenge to solve and is driven by the self-purpose of creating a solution. As to volatility, leaders and members should embrace it knowing that much has been written about conflict as a positive catalyst for change and innovation, and accept that bands are ephemeral and will likely be reformed time and again as your business and products advance.


Labels are important (just ask my colleague who makes them—not stickers) because labels carry meanings, and meanings define identities. Consider how your hiring process and success rate might differ if, whether you’re building a business from scratch, expanding lines, or simply looking to better manage your business, you gathered your talent to form a band instead of a team. Would it start with, “can you do?” or “do you love?” Do you think your employees would feel more connected to each other as a band than a team—a “Band of Misfits?”


I’ve been a far more successful leader when supported by bands of those who love and bring product than by teams that could, but from which product is required to be pulled. I’ve been far more satisfied using my time to eliminate barriers and provide resources instead of managing or directing, and have slept better at night because of a trust in their motivation for success. 


What would change for you if your next team was really a band?


Photo Credit: pixabay/users/free-photos


#teambuilding #employeeengagement #leadershipskills