How the Most Successful Teams Did it! (and What Made Them Great)

astronaut floating sideways through dark blackspace

It’s easy to forget that some of the biggest accomplishments attributed to individuals were really made possible by some of the most successful teams in history. That shouldn’t come as a surprise – well-managed teams can (literally) land someone on the moon! Here are some incredible feats that were only made possible by a group of people working together. There’s a lot we can learn from them: 

The Apollo 11 Moon Landing

astronaut standing on the moon saluting toward an American flagOn their way back from the Moon, the Apollo 11 crew made a few telling remarks. Buzz Aldrin spoke of the curiosity and innovation that made the voyage possible. Mike Collins noted all the hard work that went into building and supervising the Saturn V rocket back on Earth. Neil Armstrong thanked the men and women who worked on the mission equipment that made the moon landing possible.

They thanked a lot of people because they knew it wouldn’t have been possible if it were just three men in the cockpit. NASA estimates that it took over 400,000 engineers, scientists, and technicians to accomplish the moon landings, many of whom had no experience in the aerospace industry let alone the (relatively new) space exploration industry.

The Apollo 11 moon landing was a massive undertaking. It took a lot of tight-knit teams working hard with one another. It required excellent management, innovative thinking, and teamwork that spanned industries. There were hundreds of thousands of moving pieces and systems that had to be perfected since the smallest mishap could cause tragedy. No pressure.

And they did it! After a lengthy voyage and a successful step on the moon, the Apollo 11 crew made history. Aided by the many teams on-call in the operations control room back on Earth, they headed home and thanked all the men and women who made their journey possible. Teamwork landed us on the moon.

The Discovery of Higgs Boson

single particle with a dark purple backgroundAlright, this one is going to get pretty science-y. Even though Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the Higgs Boson, they made it clear that this scientific advancement would have been impossible without their team at the Large Hadron Collider.

The Higgs Boson is basically a new kind of particle that physicists weren’t sure existed. Way back in 1964, Peter Higgs tried to publish a paper about his theory of an invisible field that permeates space (which is now called the Higgs Field), and it was rejected as being too speculative.

But that didn’t stop him! He revised the theory and tried again with another publication. This time it was accepted, and better yet, some physicists saw it as an ingenious theory. Slowly, Higgs’ theory took hold and the search for the Higgs Boson intensified.

The problem? No one had ever found it and testing for its existence experimentally would require a massive and expensive facility. That’s where the Large Hadron Collider and its enormous team of experts come into play. This $10 billion facility is packed with the brightest scientists from across the world.

It’s really the stuff of science fiction, with a 17-mile-long tunnel that zips protons around at nearly the speed of light to smash them together. Gigantic detectors record the collision in order to search for signs of the Higgs Boson.

The “discovery” of the Higgs Boson wasn’t quite as immediate as the Moon landing. Higgs’ team at the Large Hadron Collider had to study the collisions for years before they felt confident that they identified the Higgs Boson, but once they had, they all happily entered the history books!

The Creation of the Internet

full screen of computer code with different colorsNo single person invented the internet, but there’s a lot of debate around which groups should be acknowledged as its creator. The government project ARPANET is often credited with the invention of the features that made it possible, but others say that private companies ultimately assembled those pieces to make the internet really happen.

One popular story involves Xerox making a network to connect its copiers. To them, this was nothing more than a convenient business model. They had no idea how impactful their network could be. Steve Jobs even visited Xerox in 1979 and said, “They just had no idea what they had.”

Further government and university research initiatives would bring about the internet we know today. It just goes to show that without other people around to show one group just how good their idea could be, they might miss a huge opportunity.

Famous Teams FAQ

What Makes an Effective Team?

Whether you’re working in a business or on a particle accelerator, an effective team is an incredibly powerful asset! The most effective teams tend to be the best communicators. Think about it–the Apollo 11 crew, smart as they were, wouldn’t have been able to navigate to the moon and back without their operations control team helping them out. Strong leadership is another big factor. You can have the sharpest teammates in the industry, but if they aren’t being managed properly, their potential will be wasted. They need someone to direct and mobilize them toward certain shared goals. 

What are the Benefits of Teamwork?

Steve Jobs was right when he said, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people.” Working as a team is way more effective than going it alone. Like we saw with the Apollo 11 example, a team benefits from the diverse strengths and perspectives of all of its members. The Saturn V would never have been built without teams of specialists, Higgs’ theory would never have been put to the test without the team at the Large Hadron Collider, and the internet might have just been a bunch of wires connecting printers in a Xerox shop without the help of government and university researchers. Teams make everyone into better problem solvers!

Looking for big things out of your team? Try Team Building Kits!