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Teamwork lessons from American Idol

This week’s American Idol highlighted a great lesson in teamwork and creativity.

Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox have been this season’s frontrunning contestants for several weeks now.  And in this week’s duet-themed show, they teamed up to perform the Academy Award winning song ‘Falling Slowly’.  It was a memorable moment.  What struck me more was the story behind their song selection.

Crystal loved the movie and, coincidentally, had urged Lee to watch it a few weeks ago.  When it came time to pick a movie duet, Falling Slowly was top of mind.  This allowed them to make their song choice quickly, and start practising and refining their performance piece from the get go.  The end result is creative, real and virtually effortless.

Lee & Crystal sure could teach us a thing or two.  And I don’t mean in the singing department.

When a team of any size is faced with a tight deadline (like the American Idol crew does every single week), it can often spend far too much time deciding who does what, what needs to be done, in what order…and after all that discussion, you now have the same workload staring you in the face with even less time to accomplish it.  For example, this simple marshmallow problem has pre-schoolers consistently outshining business school students, all because adults spend too much time deciding on who the boss and what the plan of attack should be, instead of working on the problem at hand.

So, how did Lee & Crystal shine (besides their awesome singing and guitar playing)?

  1. They found a project (in this case, a song) they both liked and resonated with.  It’s not always possible to like every project that comes your way, or to find team members that share your taste in projects, but your job situation may be more flexible than you perceive it to be.  See if you can design your next project or cast of team members around a common goal or sense of purpose.
  2. They did not engage in analysis paralysis.  With less than a week to go from ‘what song do I sing’ to ‘lights, camera, action’, they can’t buy extra ‘thinking’ time with their bosses/clients.  The show MUST go on for their eager global audience.  The sooner they pick a song, the better.
  3. Thanks to their fortuitous decision-making, they had more time to experiment and refine their end product.  The best innovations, works of art, scientific breakthroughs etc all share one thing in common.  Lots and lots of trial and error.  From the Wright Brothers to contemporary hardware/software builds, hundreds of attempts precede the final act of brilliance.
  4. They were fortuitous decision-makers because of two very important factors – mutual trust and respect.  On air, Crystal called Lee her ‘musical crush’.  By honoring and validating each others’ artistry/expertise, half the battle is won and teamwork becomes smoother.
  5. They have an eye on the prize.  With the finishing line so close that the winner can almost smell their new Ford leather interior, it brings their weekly mission (to give their absolute best) into crystal focus.  And they’re playing the ultimate game of ‘co-opetition’.  It’s important to do well on the solo songs, but it’s just as vital to be fully committed to team efforts like this week’s duets.  Teams often sink in the quicksand of oneupsmanship, and in the process lose sight of the organizational prize they’re after (e.g. a client win, a successful product launch, a smooth merger).  Multi-national companies and inter-continental collaborations typify so many business and social transactions these days.  Your competitor today may become your joint venture partner tomorrow.  Be good but do good too.

My best wishes to the top 3 contestants, AI’s most talented crop yet.  I hope their collective and individual stars continue to dazzle.