Paul Butler | What a team!

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

My wife and I observed excellent teamwork up close and personal over the last couple of weeks. It was so up close that it was actually in our own backyard — not metaphorically but actually in our own backyard. It was so personal that we were the ones paying the bill, as this was the construction crew laying the foundation for what has since become our landscaped garden. 

I’ve studied teamwork for about 30 years, and I’ve read many esteemed authors waxing on about the theoretical principles of teamwork. I’d also like to think I’ve worked on some pretty effective teams, but what we recently had front-row seats for, just a stone’s throw from our kitchen window, was “la cosa real” (the real thing). 

The first attribute of team excellence we observed was how each member showed up early for work. We were told they’d start at 8 a.m., but the crew was outside our garage by 7:45 a.m. — everyone present and raring to go. 

Conversely, what do we see in team mediocrity? Lateness, or at best, people showing up at, say, 8 a.m. and then wasting 10-15 minutes before they actually start working.  

The second attribute of team excellence we observed was absolute clarity of communication on the job to be done. It was evident everyone had seen the blueprint beforehand. There was no time wasted trying to explain the plan. Within seconds, the first pick hit the tough clay up on this part of the mountain referred to by the locals as “Magic.” 

Conversely, mediocre teams lack clarity of purpose. Most mediocre teams don’t have a mission statement and hence lack vision. It was clear to us that this excellent team knew what they needed to get done for the day and knew why they were doing it. 

The third attribute was perhaps our favorite, and that was the pure joy of how they worked together. There was such an “esprit de corps” — that feeling of pride, fellowship and common loyalty shared among the crew. Each and every one of them seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. They each seemed grateful for the work. Everyone seemed to have a spirit to serve each other. Even though they were assigned to different tasks (i.e., pouring concrete, soil removal, irrigation, etc.), there were countless times we observed people jumping tasks to help another.  

Conversely, mediocre teams stay in their lanes. They see other departments as mild irritants to criticize and blame. Mediocre teams are comprised of mediocre individuals only looking out for three people: Me, Myself, and I. Such individuals are selfishly focused on what the employer can do for them, rather than what they can do for the employer. Such people want to give as little as possible to get as much as possible. 

The fourth attribute we observed was superb leadership. Curtis not only understood their language but also spoke their language. What I mean was that, as a native English speaker, he’d invested the time to learn español mexicano (Mexican Spanish) and clearly had a good rapport with his crew. The mutual respect was palpable.  

Conversely, the root of the issue with most mediocre teams is poor leadership.  

The leader has an outdated command and control mindset and skill set that no longer works in today’s world. They see leadership like a class system and perceive their position of power as one where they can lord it over others because they’ve “earned” the right to do so as they’ve “paid their dues.” In reality, all they’ve earned is the explicit, formal authority to turn the organizational pyramid upside down and see themselves as being the servant of all. 

In sum, it was glorious to witness the work of a small team working intentionally well together, under the guidance of a servant leader.  This all seemed so timely this close to Christmas when the greatest job of all was completed.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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