As we reach President Obama and Vice President Biden’s last day in office, it seems fitting to reflect on teamwork in the context of their time in office.
We often joke about the “bromance” shared by President Obama and Vice President Biden, but there are some powerful teamwork lessons to be learned from the these two extraordinary leaders.
Mr. President, you have more than kept your commitment to me by saying that you wanted me to help govern. The President’s line often -- other people don't hear it that often, but when someone would say, can you get Joe to do such and such. He says, I don't do his schedule. He doesn't do mine. Every single thing you've asked me to do, Mr. President, you have trusted me to do. And that is -- that's a remarkable thing. - Vice President Joe Biden
There is an important distinction about team trust in this quote. Obama trusts Biden to carry out the tasks that he asks him to do, but he also trusts him to have his own schedule because the two are responsible for the larger task of governing.
Often in teams we might feel that we, above all others, have the clearest insight as to what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. When that happens, it can feel like our agendas are top priority and anything else is a distraction. But in teams, we commit to a rare combination of independence (to contribute what we can uniquely provide) and shared vision (to achieve a common goal that we couldn’t achieve alone).
By asking Vice President Biden to help govern while insisting that “I don’t do his schedule, he doesn’t do mine,” President Obama eloquently demonstrates that they are two individuals bringing their talents together for the sake of governing well - not for the sake of either person’s agenda.
The reason why when you send me around the world, nothing gets -- as my mom would say, gets missed between the cup and the lip, it’s because they know when I speak, I speak for you. - Vice President Joe Biden
It may seem like a no-brainer that good teamwork requires unity, but the mistake that teams often make is thinking that it is necessary to acquiesce to a team member with a strong personality or that it is acceptable to let external parties dictate the team’s direction.
In some cases, one team member might go so far as to undermine the efforts of another and occasionally an external party might try shopping around for a second opinion because one team member didn’t give them the answer they wanted. Good teams understand that these departures distract them from being able to move forward in the right direction or take them off course, while unity makes the team stronger and makes the goal more likely to succeed.
Honesty / Candid Communication
Behind the scenes, Joe's candid, honest counsel has made me a better President and a better Commander-in-Chief. From the Situation Room to our weekly lunches, to our huddles after everybody else has cleared out of the room, he's been unafraid to give it to me straight, even if we disagree -- in fact, especially if we disagree. - President Barack Obama
We've disagreed, and we've argued, and we've raised our voices, one of which we made a deal we'd be completely open like brothers with one another. - Vice President Joe Biden
For the most part, teams will agree that honesty is vital to success and yet so few are actually candid or disagree with one another in practice.
In reality, honesty and candidness require an upfront commitment with consistent reminders over time. When we work together with others there are so many considerations that we make with our communication and actions. We might love and respect our teammates like family, so it can sometimes just seem easier to hold something back, and in more troubling cases where the team doesn’t get along very well on a personal level, honesty might fall through out of spite or personal agenda. Regardless of whether the love is there or not, without honesty problems don’t crop up until it’s too late and by that time they can grow out of control. For teams that are serious about accomplishing a shared goal, the setbacks and damaged relationships that come from a lack of candid communication are far worse than small squabbles along the way.