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Why the Famous Five were a winning team

It’s been 75 years since Five on Treasure Island was published – the very first time we were introduced to Julian, Dick, George, Anne and, of course, Timmy the dog. Famous Five fan Sarah Woods takes a look at the books and uncovers a few gems that explain why the courageous quintet were so successful.

There are times in life when you have to choose your allegiance – Blur or Oasis, Pepsi or Coke, THAT dress. Enid Blyton left us with that very dilemma, but for me it was always the Famous Five and never the Secret Seven.

Adventure, friendship, loyalty and lashings of ginger beer… Blyton knew how to capture the imaginations of her young readers.

But why write about the Famous Five? Well, aside from it being the best argument yet that an office pet would definitely enhance our team, with 21 successful adventures to their names (not to mention the latest Famous Five parodies, such as Five Go Gluten Free and Five Go On A Strategy Away Day), they must be doing something right.

And whether you’re a group of picnic-loving pre-teens looking for adventure, or an office of adults facing the challenges that come with the world of work, here are (you guessed it) five characteristics of a great team.

1. Family

A good team looks out for and cares about each other; no one is out for themselves. And while I’m not suggesting that you start setting up a business with your siblings, I think that getting on with the people you work with is important. The Famous Five may have had the family connection, but friendship can be just as strong. Look for opportunities to build and encourage this, whether it’s at the recruitment stage making sure people will be a ‘good fit’ with your existing team or through encouraging socialising – both can help create a more united and successful team.

2. Grit

If you’ve got a spare five minutes, this TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth is well worth a watch. Through a wide range of situations and contexts, her research has identified that the biggest factor in success is not IQ, good looks or social intelligence – rather, it’s grit. That’s resilience, determination and courage – qualities the Five have in spades. Taking on grown men with guns, going up against the terrifying Uncle Quentin and finding long-lost treasure all definitely count as grit in my book. Winston Churchill said it best: ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’ – and that’s a pretty strong ethos.

3. Mix of characters, personalities and skills

Anyone who’s read the Famous Five books will know: about George’s fiery temper, but also her unwavering honesty; that Anne is the youngest and gentlest of the lot; that Julian is sensible, reliable and kind; and that Dick is smart and resourceful, even under pressure. Even Timmy plays his part by being a reassuring and calming influence. It doesn’t take much understanding of behaviour to realise that if you had a group made up entirely of Georges, the team wouldn’t get very far. The Five complement each other perfectly – and it’s this mix of characters that make the team work. Enid Blyton knew 75 years ago what researchers are still studying today. Just take a look at this article from Harvard Business Review earlier this year: ‘Great teams are about personalities, not just skills’.

4. Leadership

Julian, as the oldest, naturally takes on the role as leader, but he’s happy to allow George to take charge when it comes to challenges like navigating out at sea – not letting his ego get in the way of a girl taking the lead. Considering the less equal times in which the books were written, that says a lot about his leadership. The others look up to him, and what makes Julian great is that he recognises how to get the best out of them. He recognises and encourages the talents of others which is a sure sign of a good leader.

5. Communication

They may not have had fancy new-fangled technology, but the Five were just as smart when they communicated. Anne’s shins can testify to that as they often received a sharp kick under the table when she was about to let something slip! And while kicking your colleagues isn’t advisable, it’s a good reminder to keep communication clear, simple and to the point.Times may have changed a lot since the books were written, especially when it comes to gender roles, stereotypes and technology – and in another 75 years it will be even harder for children to believe that this was how the world used to be. But the core things that make the books successful won’t have changed and the Famous Five will remain a jolly good example of how a great team works.

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