Dysfunctionality and the Winning Ad Agency Team

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I was working in my office this afternoon when I noticed a buzz of activity in our offices. It was just the sound of busy people working, but I noticed a particularly encouraging attribute to that buzzing. The smell of fresh brewed coffee drifted from one of our art director's office. People were busily moving about. There was laughter. Not laughing-at-a-joke kind of laughter or that casual laughter you hear when friends are chatting.
Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland

These are the sounds of a team gelling. One of my newer employees came in later to talk about some projects he's working on. The conversation shifted to his time with the agency. He commented on how well everyone gets along though we're such a diverse group.

Developing into a winning team is like being in a three-legged race. You're stumbling, out of sync, embarrassed for your partner because of your own lack of coordination, when suddenly you get your legs working together and you take off as if you're Siamese twins. I don't really know what causes this to happen when it happens. But I know why it happens: A clear single-minded goal. When you have clear goal each team member can be carefully selected to play a specific role in attaining that goal.

The people we've been hiring during this past year were selected for more than their technical skill. What makes them tick is a bigger consideration. Personality is as important technical acumen. In my experience this approach is critical to a team coming together just right. One of my favorite NFL teams of the past was the Oakland Raiders of the early 80's. Jim Plunkett was a washed up quarterback sent to Oakland for a song. He was a college superstar who never lived up to his potential. The rest of the Raiders team was pretty much the same. Those guys had talent they were just dysfunctional. Together they realized their potential. They reminded me of the prison team in the old Burt Reynolds film "The Longest Yard." In 1984 they came up against the heavily favored Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl and pummeled them 38 to 9. Separate they were a bunch of under-achievers. Together they broke Super Bowl records. I'm always looking for the Plunkett's of advertising.

At the end of a championship game the winning team shares hugs, tears, laughter and congratulations with one another. At that moment they genuinely love one another. Off the field, these people may have no desire for one another's company, but in that moment they are family. That's why I can put up with all of the frustration of our industry. Because I love the sound of laughter of a winning team.
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