Dealing Blackjack... an analogy in team development.

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here

I am a director on the board of a fledgling charity for the disabled*, and as with most small organizations, operating funds are always in short supply; having said that, I found myself dealing Blackjack at a games night fundraiser. By the end of the night we had raised some money, had some fun with friends and neighbors, and I saw a wonderful analogy in team development - This still resonates and I wanted to share.

For those of you who are not familiar with Blackjack (or twenty-one), it is a card game that involves getting closest to 21 without going over, where numbered cards are taken at face value, face cards are worth ten and the ace is worth one or eleven. A natural Blackjack is when you get 21 with two cards (an ace and a ten). There are various "house rules" that come with the game but ultimately a person is betting that they will get closer to 21 than the dealer and win their bet. Although all players are playing independently against the dealer, the cards they decide to draw (or do not draw), can impact the other players at the table.

As you can appreciate, most people came to have fun and support the charity, so many of the people who were playing at my table had not played cards before or if they were familiar with Blackjack, they really didn't understand the strategies needed to win. At the best of times the odds are stacked in the house's favor, so they were losing but having fun. And then Mike sat down.

Mike knew all about the game of Blackjack, its strategies, how to play the odds...when to draw a card and when to hold; he was just there to have fun. As he began to play he would openly say what he was doing, why he was doing it and suggested to others how they may want to play - He knew it was it was the dealer against them. As the night progressed, we continued to have great fun and I could see the other players using the techniques Mike was suggesting. Their confidence in how to play the game increased, as well as the number of times they were winning; the energy attracted others to play. In the end, Mike won, but everyone was better for it. 

Although it may be considered a stretch to call the people at the table a team, I think that with a little artistic license, it can be said that they all had a common goal to beat me and in this specific situation, there was a sharing of information, knowledge and influence to deal with that common goal - With this said, my time dealing Blackjack reminded me of this:

  • All teams need common goals and clearly articulated expectations; including how success is defined.
  • Build your team with individuals who are "superstars"** and "potential superstars" (as they are the future).
  • Look to your "superstars" (like Mike) to set an example for the skills needed, the attitude required and how success is defined. This will help develop your "potential superstars". 
  • Expect those up and coming superstars to learn, develop, emulate and exercise their abilities. 
  • At any given time, some will win more than others, but their success should not be "built on the backs" of those on the team. Appropriate recognition of success is key.
  • Celebrate your successes against your common goals.
  • Team membership is forever changing (and should be in my opinion). Ensure you have a solid pipeline of potential new members. This will perpetuate long term success.

If truth be told, I also started dealing a little bit better when Mike showed up - A Superstar raises everyone's game.


* Connect4Life. 

** Superstar (or Rockstar) is a term often used in a business setting to describe a person who is considered very successful at what they do; they possess qualities people want and should be emulated. Common used among a sales team to describe over plan achievers.