winning teams
Inside The Office Management

Winning Teams: “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”

This ancient quote, attributed to Aristotle, speaks to the importance of synergy between components of a system. As important as the heart, liver, kidneys and other physical organs are, they only come to life when they’re properly connected in the context of a living human body. And, similarly, a weak or failing organ hurts the entire system. Each organ or element must function at a certain level to maximize overall health.

The same is true with winning teams. With Super Bowl LVIII now behind us in the USA (congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs!), it should be obvious that winning, or even making it to the playoffs, wasn’t just about the individual ability of each team member. They had to learn to play together, to anticipate each other’s moves, complement each other’s strengths and make decisions to benefit the team. They also needed to “like” or at least respect each other. They needed to spend time together off the field, learning more about each other personally and their individual motivations.

All of this contributes to forming winning teams. And for teams to successfully reach their goals, it’s not always about having the best players. They need players with the right skill set. How does that happen?

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts when…

…there’s a connection between people.

As a Detroit Lions fan, much has been made of former quarterback Matt Stafford’s 2021 trade to the LA Rams, where he led them to win Super Bowl LVI in his first year there, despite several losing seasons in Detroit. And in the 2023-24 season, former Rams quarterback Jared Goff led the Lions to the NFC championship game for the first time since 1992 by beating the Rams by one point.

Both quarterbacks struggled for a while with their former teams but excelled with their new ones. It’s more than just their individual skills; they connected with their coaches and teammates to win. Coupled with other changes in staff and players, they were able to assemble winning teams.

Similarly, workplace teams perform better when they bring the right combination of skill sets and work on building stronger personal relationships. I’ve worked with many bright people, but those who contribute most to a team are the ones who help others connect the dots to find winning solutions. They lean into interactions with their colleagues and help identify how capabilities best fit together, like pieces of a puzzle.

…people possess an optimistic mindset.

Optimistic people see possibilities. They are realistic and understand the facts, but they also believe that the present situation can change without warning. They know when to exercise patience, to leverage their influence and to explore alternatives.

All the teams who didn’t make it to the Super Bowl are doing just that now. They’re making trades, repositioning coaching staff, identifying weaknesses to shore up. And they recognize the potential for fortuitous successes over and above their hard work.

It reminds me of the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could, where larger locomotives refused to try pulling a heavy load up a mountain. But a small engine agreed to attempt it and slowly chugged along, repeating, “I think I can, I think I can.” When it finally reached the top, it proudly proclaimed, “I thought I could!”

…people are creative.

Several decades ago, there was a TV series (now recently reprised), called MacGyver. Each episode featured the title character saving a life or getting out of an impossible situation by using an assortment of seemingly unrelated objects. He could use whatever he had on hand in an unlikely way to find a solution. He had an uncanny way of solving problems and finding creative links.

Creative people can take ordinary things and make something beautiful or valuable. They can meet a need that others consider difficult or improbable. They’re also good at thinking in the abstract. They can absorb and process what they see and hear to form theories, develop concepts and make inferences to broader situations. For example, inventions like the automobile or airplane provide transportation, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These teams find new solutions to persistent problems and more productive ways of working together.

…people elicit positive emotional responses.

My husband and I recently joined a number of other married couples in conducting a weekend workshop for engaged and dating couples who were considering marriage. Our goal was to help them anticipate and talk about the many aspects of marriage before saying “I do,” to support them in having happy, healthy relationships. More than simply presenting our respective topics, we all share real-life experiences, vulnerabilities, and joy based on our unique experiences. We’re a big team, we love working together and we continue to learn even from each other. Our “mentees” feel our excitement in the room, and it provides a supportive environment for growth.

Form winning teams

As you look at your team, think about how to strengthen its value as a whole. It’s not just about having the best players. It’s about having the right players working together in synergy. 

Want some help to successfully manage your team? Check out our tech tool recommendations.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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