The “Miracle Moment”

The “miracle on ice” is the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. This team of amateur players overcame the odds and beat the Soviet hockey team, considered best in the world, during a tumultuous point in the Cold War. Disney made a movie about the team called “Miracle”, staring Kurt Russel as the team’s coach Herb Brooks.

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There is a famous moment during the movie that tells an important story about teamwork and team trust. Throughout the beginning of the movie, Disney shows that the athletes identify as a collection of individuals. Coach Brooks periodically asks team members during practice to introduce themselves and they respond with their name, home town, and school where they played hockey. Even thought, the team is beginning to gel, it’s obvious that trust has not fully formed.

After a disappointing performance during an exhibition game, Coach Brooks keeps the whole team out on the ice to run “suicide” sprints for hours. The team is becoming so fatigued as they keep skating back and forth across the ice that the assistant coach and team physician are encouraging Coach Brooks to stop calling for more sprints. At a desperate, but important moment, the soon-to-be-named team captain, Mike Eruzione, announces his name, hometown, and that he plays for their current team, their country, the United States of America.

You can watch the scene here:

That “Miracle Moment” was a dramatic representation of the moment when a group of individuals transformed into a team. In high-performing teams, team members can pinpoint the moment where this transformation happens, which I refer to as the “Miracle Moment”.

When individuals come together to perform a task, becoming a team does not happen quickly. Basic human psychology encourages us to be selective about whom we trust, especially when other people look, speak, or see the world differently than we do. Individuals can get together and perform tasks well, but only in an environment of trust, openness, and fairness will a true team be able to form.

Teams are different than groups of individuals because teams can achieve high levels of synergy. Synergy happens when the group reaches better conclusions than any of the individuals would have reached acting independently from one another.

The best performing teams that I have been on have all had a “Miracle Moment” where individuals became a team. It is hard to manufacture that moment, it takes work to create and foster an environment where it can happen. The leader is responsible for developing a context where the team can come together. For Coach Brooks, his strategy was to galvanize the team against a common foe: himself.

Brooks’ plan worked. The US Olympic hockey team won the gold medal in 1980, beating the Soviets to get into the gold medal game.

KEY TAKEAWAY: As you lead your team, create opportunities for the “Miracle Moment” to happen when your team becomes truly synergistic. Use the tools at your disposal: the ability to call meetings, set up retreats, or create social contexts outside of work to create an environment where trust develops. When that “Miracle Moment” happens, the group of people you lead will become a team and teams can accomplish anything.