The Ancient Roman military, famed for its organization and tactical brilliance, revolutionized warfare through teamwork. From 161 BCE to 180 CE, these soldiers were unified under the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius by a code, “strength and honor.”
In part 1 of this series, Dr. Tony Garza discusses the significance behind the first word of this code: strength. Strength can take on many forms, both individually and collectively. So, what exactly is ‘strength’ within the modern team setting? And, since you’re most likely not charging into a battlefield with a sword anytime soon, how does the first component of this ancient Roman war code apply to you? Let’s dive in.
“Strength and honor.” I can remember these two words shared repeatedly amongst Roman soldiers in the 2001 Academy Award Winning film, Gladiator. The main character played by Russell Crowe is a General in the Roman army, and in several scenes, Roman soldiers would greet him and recite “strength and honor” amongst one another before stepping onto the battlefield. For many, these were their last words before ultimately losing their lives. For these soldiers, strength and honor was more than just a cool thing to say before rushing into battle; it was a code that they lived and died by—I think there is something profound about that.
In this series, I would like to take a closer look at these two words and discuss their significance in team-building. Your team may not be preparing for a battle against invading armies (although it may feel like that sometimes), but your team would likely benefit from incorporating these two fundamental values into the building blocks of your organization’s cultural infrastructures. So, let’s start off with the first one–strength.
When we think about strength, we tend to think of it in terms of personal strength. What can I do well, what are my strengths, and what do I bring to the team? Although this does play an important role, I want to focus on strength as it relates to a team. What is the core strength of a team? Some would say it’s the leader or the individual abilities of each team member. (We have likely all heard the “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” mantra.) Others would point to established goals and vision as the key to team strength. All these answers are not wrong, and each plays a vital role within teamwork. However, I want to propose something different:
“The strength of a team is determined by a unique component—Trust.”
Well-known author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek once said, “a team is not a group of people who work together, but rather, a group of people who trust each other.” Regardless of each individual’s strength or the strength of the leaders, a team may be weak if the team members do not trust each other.
“When team members trust each other, they will go above and beyond for the good of the team, because they trust the person next to them to do the same.”
This was essential for Roman soldiers as they had to trust that the soldier next to them would guard them with their shield. It was total reliance on one another. In his book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team , Patrick Lencioni stated, “Trust is the foundation of real teamwork” and that “Teamwork actually begins by building trust.” Trust is essential to collaboration between team members, especially in the relationship between leaders and their teams.
As Christ-followers, it is no secret what is the source of our strength. Observing numerous biblical passages, I find it interesting that you will find that trust is at the center of relying on God for strength within the context of each verse. The Psalmist declared, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust… (Psalm 18:2, KJV). I must first put my trust in Him and believe that He is able and willing to give me strength.
So, you want a stronger team? How is the level of trust between your team members? Can others trust you to have the team’s or (organization, church, family, marriage, etc.) best interest in mind? Can you trust the other members of your team to do the same?
A lack of trust will create dysfunction and sabotage teamwork. The problem is that a lack of trust is not always easy to identify or communicate, and it may show up in different forms. What we say and how we say it communicates the level of trust in others. Do you inspire trust in the way you communicate and relate to others?
We have all been part of group projects where we knew we had to do extra to account for the one team member (or several) who cannot be trusted to do their part. This has left us with understandable trust issues when it comes to teamwork. This is a real problem that requires addressing, and there are efficient ways to do so (which may merit its own blog).
So, if you want a strong team…
…then I encourage you to build trust amongst your team. Pay careful attention to what you delegate and your initial thoughts about others when thinking about a new project. You may find that you’re making decisions based on a lack of trust, and that is not a good place to be. These are important (and difficult) questions to ask ourselves, but the more trust you have, the more you will accomplish together. It is great to work with a team that trusts each other to accomplish the mission at hand and looks out for one another. Perhaps it is not that we are only as strong as our weakest link, but that we are as strong as our level of trust.
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