When I was in my last year of high school I was selected for a church basketball league all-star team. Right after school let out, our team of New York City all stars travelled through the Midwest for two weeks. We played two kinds of teams during that time. We played other all star teams and we played championship teams from similar church leagues. The championship teams were always tougher.
Now this. Before the NBA season began, NBA all stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh left the teams they had been with to join Dwayne Wade in Miami. Silly predictions reigned in the press about whether the team with all those stars could win 75 or more games and what teams they would beat on their way to what was sure to be a championship. LeBron James was more understated, he said: “We’re going to be a very good team.” They haven’t been a good team, though. As I write this the Heat are in third place in their conference after struggling most of the season to get their high-powered talent to mesh.
Recently, I’ve been working on a client research project that involves interviewing top individual performers who have also put together high performing teams. When they talk about what makes a great team, they say that the members should have complementary skills, should have a work ethic that matches other team members, and should “check their ego at the door.”
And, it turns out that even stars need a good team around them. Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee studied the performance of securities analysts who switched firms and offer this caution: “Stars need to recognize that despite their talent, knowledge, experience, and reputation, who they work with really matters for sustaining top performance.”
All of this suggests to me that the ability to play on a team is at least as important as individual skills. And yet, when I cast my eyes over all the boatloads of articles and blog posts and books about business and corporate success, working well with others is hardly mentioned. We talk about “the best and the brightest” in terms of talent, we have no equivalent phrase for top team players.
Here’s my suggestion. Let’s forget the “War for Talent” for a while and see what happens if we find more people who work and play well with others. Instead of catering to the whims of talent, let’s pay more attention to the blending of great teams.