01 Feb The Morning I Valued Team Members Over Team Victories

Do you participate in activities that involve other people? If so, you are on a team. If you have a family, you are on their team. If you volunteer at a non-profit organization, play a sport, or are on a board of directors, you are on a team. If you have a job, you are probably on a team.

Growing up, my favorite team sport was basketball. In grade school, I lived on my driveway year-round shooting baskets through the brutal Wisconsin winters, until my hands would go numb and itch for hours. In high school, the local gym was my home-away-from-home. My parents would drop me off right after a quick dinner and then pick me up again when they closed.

After my second year of high school, my closest friend started to join me at the local gym. For countless hours, RJ Fischer (#44 pictured above) and I practiced the sport we both loved so much. The practice paid off and we started to get better and better. During our senior year, we won a school record of 25 games and made it to the State Tournament. Talk about a young man’s dream come true.

Immediately after high school, we both went to the same college and were able to extend our basketball days together. During our freshman season, we took first place in conference and RJ was playing the best basketball of his life. We were extremely excited to play in our first collegiate conference tournament together. The day before the tournament, Coach said that we should meet for the bus at 10:45am.

February 19th, 1999, was our big game day. Many of us arrived at 10:00am to shoot around for a bit. At 10:30am, we were waiting for a handful of players. At 10:45am, we were only waiting for my buddy RJ and one other player. At 11:00am, we were still waiting, and not so patiently. Finally, at around 11:15am, Coach received a call that his players, RJ and Chris, were in a terrible car accident. We were told that Chris had suffered less injury, but RJ was being transported to a hospital via Flight for Life. When I heard the terrible news, it took my breath away. I struggled to grasp what had happened to my best friend. I shrunk down against the east wall of the court with a pit in my stomach, and I cried. I wanted it to be a bad joke, and I wanted RJ to come around the corner and tell me everything was alright.

It was in that instant that I realized that we had won a lot of games and had experienced success because we valued the friendship that we shared and the respect we had for each other. I looked around at the guys and realized that we treasured all of the team members over team victories. In that very moment that shook me to the core, I realized a very important life lesson. I want you to ask yourself, “Do you treasure your team members more than the team victories?”

Click to Tweet: Treasure your team members over team victories. Put people over profits. @derekdeprey #movetobeteams #shiftbook

Was winning important to us? Yes. Even more important, however, was having fun and being a family who enjoyed the journey and spending time with each other. We bonded on and off the court. We laughed together. Nobody lifted our team up more than RJ. He was the catalyst in our family of friends, for the fun that we shared, and he was the reason that we wanted to get to know each other . . . because RJ always put people first.

Today, RJ still inspires fun and family. I look forward to the Fourth of July every year when we celebrate with him and his wife and his three young children. I do still think about that morning so long ago.

Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” I learned on that morning that investing in others and valuing the person even more than the progress is just as vital to success. It isn’t always what you can measure that’s important, it is the person(s) on your team that add intangible value. I want to lead by investing in my team members, not just in our success.

ACTION: Think about a team that you are on. People want to feel a sense of connection above anything else. How can you lead by example so that your team members get to know and respect each other? Find a way and do it this week. For example, take the initiative to get to know a team member better by asking questions about their hobbies and their family. Or, spend more time with a colleague by offering to help with a project, by organizing a team-building activity, or by attending an offsite training session.

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