248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By: Dan Cohen – 8/26/14

          As we swelter through the remaining “dog days” of summer, I can’t help but reminiscence about those brutal “double session” football practices.   Back in the day, I dreaded the thought of training camp most of the summer, always wondering whether I had run enough sprints and hit the weights hard enough to survive those two to three weeks in August where you mostly feel sorry for yourself as grown adults spend their day screaming and yelling at you about most everything and pushing you well beyond your limits. Of course, the training camp experience brings the team together like soldiers in a bunker. Lifelong bonds are forged in the process.

          Now, I mostly enjoy my summers and the build-up to the football season. I get to lean on the fence and watch my oldest son go through that football rite of passage we know as “double sessions.” No longer do I worry about being in playing shape: It wouldn’t matter anyways as I will never be in playing shape again. With football season literally upon us, I decided to pull out the late, great Bo Schembechler’s 1983 address to his team. This speech is one of my all-time favorites. It has sentimental value to me as my brother, Jeff was on that team and in that locker room when Bo gave it. It also has great relevancy to my practice as a labor attorney and can provide great lessons for the workplace. I know businesses that foster a team first approach are the successful ones. I also know all too well just how destructive it can be to an organization when employee self-interests are elevated above the interests of the team as a whole.

          If you have never heard his now famous “the team, the team, the team” speech, it is re-printed below and well worth the read:

“We want the Big Ten championship, and we’re going to win it as a team. They can throw out all those great backs and great quarterbacks and great defensive players through the country and in this conference, but there’s going to be one team that plays solely as a team. No man is more important than the team, no coach is more important than the team. The team, the team, the team!

If we think that way – all of us – everything you do, take into consideration what effect does it have on my team? Because you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a team again. You’ll play for a contract, you’ll play for this, you’ll play for that. You’ll play for everything except the team. Think what a great thing it is to be part of something that is the team! “We’re going to win it.

We’re going to win the championship again because we’re going to play as a team. Better than anybody else in this conference, we’re going to play together as a team. We’re going to believe in each other, were not going to criticize each other, we’re not going to talk about each other. We’re going to encourage each other!

When we play as a team, when the old season is over, you and I know it’s going to be Michigan again.”

          I was fortunate enough to know Bo, having met him back in 1979 when he came to my parent’s home to recruit my brother, Jeff to play for him at Michigan. This was a guy who filled the room and commanded the utmost respect from anyone and everyone. Those who knew him well knew how much he cared about his players, how loyal he was and how valuable his lessons were. A great motivator and a great leader he was. To Bo, it was never about him, but always about “the team, the team, the team!

          For those of us who have been part of a team, we know the value of putting the team first. We know that if the team succeeds, we generally succeed as individuals.  In the workplace, being on a team gives employees a greater sense of belonging and of recognition, which helps them take more pride in their work, and their company.  Better quality, greater productivity, more accountability, and creative solutions to problems come from team environments in the workplace. By having employees with different backgrounds and perspectives discussing the pros and cons of alternative solutions, the best possible solution tends to win out. Of course, ongoing interaction among the team members, and working in a group for the whole day, helps build unity among the employees. The effects of unity and mutual cooperation make the work easier, more enjoyable and goals become more attainable.