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Balancing act: Good teams excel in times of crisis

Louisville's Russ Smith (2), Gorgui Dieng (10) and Montrezl Harrell, right, react after Kevin Ware suffered a lower right leg injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA tournament.
Louisville's Russ Smith (2), Gorgui Dieng (10) and Montrezl Harrell, right, react after Kevin Ware suffered a lower right leg injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA tournament.
Michael Conroy, Associated Press

A little more than 12 years ago, my second child was born six weeks premature. She weighed only 3 pounds, 11 ounces, and in the first few days of her life, she dropped down to just over 3 pounds.

My wife and I were shocked, scared and worried as our tiny girl spent the first two weeks of her life in the newborn intensive care unit, watched over and helped along by a team of amazing doctors and nurses.

I remember being afraid to hold her, this little miracle whose leg was as big around as my forefinger.

We got through that difficult time thanks to the love, support and prayers of many family members and friends who saw our needs before we did and served us with open hearts and open arms.

Much of that support came from people at work. I was sports editor of the Deseret News at the time, but I had been a business reporter and editor, so I knew people in many different departments at the paper.

These dear colleagues also reacted with shock and tears when I let them know about my daughter's premature birth. But as it became clear that she was going to be OK, they did exactly what I most needed them to do: the job.

The people on my team not only excelled at their own tasks, but they also picked up the shifts I had to miss and made sure I knew everything was fine at work while I was focusing entirely on my family.

It's strange how the human brain works, but for some reason, this is the experience that came to my mind on Sunday as I heard and read about Louisville Cardinals basketball player Kevin Ware.

As anyone who follows college basketball surely knows, Ware broke his leg in a horrifying fashion as he landed after leaping to try to block a shot late in the first half of Louisville's game against Duke.

As Ware lay on the court in agony being helped by medical personnel, coaches and players on both teams, as well as spectators in the stadium and, I'm sure, in homes nationwide, reacted with tears and prayers.

But the part of this incident that spurred my own memory, I think, was hearing that Ware's one desire of his teammates was that they carry on and win the game.

It took the Louisville players a few minutes to process what they had seen and understand that their teammate — some referred to him as their brother — would be OK.

Eventually, they were able to move ahead and excel not only at their own tasks, but also at duties that allowed them to make up for the loss of their teammate. I'm sure they wanted to do this in a way that would make it clear to Ware that everything was fine on the court so he could focus on his own healing process off of it.

Thinking about both this sports incident and my own experience helped me understand anew the power that comes from being part of a strong team.

I've been fortunate enough to belong to several such teams during my career, as I mentioned in a column a couple of months ago. But one thing I didn't address then was the potential benefit of working with a team during a time of crisis.

Had I been a lone worker when my preemie daughter was born, I'm sure family and friends would have been supportive, but I wouldn't have had that work community letting me know that they had my back. I would have had to figure out a way to cover for myself, and that would have been extremely difficult.

On the other hand, I've found that the best work groups — those that already operate at a high level during the best of times — get even better when one team member is in trouble.

It is at these times that people step up and give extra effort to keep things running smoothly. I've seen them put their heads together to develop creative solutions to the problems that come along with being temporarily shorthanded.

And I've seen them draw closer together to support not only the team member in crisis, but also those left in the office to get things done.

That's what happened on Sunday, as Louisville came out on fire in the second half and defeated Duke to earn a trip to NCAA Final Four. And it's what happened at the News after my daughter was born, as the sports team produced high-quality stories and page designs for the paper's readers.

I hope Kevin Ware will recover completely from his injury and will be able to excel in both his basketball career and all other aspects of his life. As he heals and returns to former activities, I'm sure he'll remember those teammates who kept doing the job when he was in a time of crisis.

As for me, every time I look at my healthy, intelligent, beautiful, miracle daughter, I will, as always, think of the family and friends who helped us during those two scary weeks about a dozen years ago. But I'll also remember the work team that provided a different kind of comfort — and taught me lessons I'm still using, at home and in the office, every day.

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