In the early days of my career I had many mentors, some formal and some informal. One thing was for certain: I learned a little something from everybody regarding team building.
From some, I learned very specific lessons on how not to treat people or how not to lead people. From others, I learned how people are at the center of all of our individual and group successes.
I watched two distinct theories play out; some subscribed to the ‘team building’ approach while others believed in the strategy of building a team. The difference was lost to me at first, but as I grew by navigating my own leadership trials, I have come to fully understand the difference, and in fact, I can appreciate additional nuances to both approaches.
Team building, I have come to understand, is the continuous process of picking the best performers for your team. Much like building an all-star baseball team, this is often considered the most efficient method. You simply pick the best pitcher, catcher, fielders, hitters, etc. and you will have a great producing team. The theory in assembling an organization in this way is that there will be less time spent on training and personnel issues, so productivity will be maximized with less effort.
Building a team, on the other hand, is the art of finding the right person for the right position, regardless of whether or not their specific skill set is aligned with what you are currently looking for. One example would be a football team that is drafting the best available athlete–even though that individual might be a punter–with the intention of making them a linebacker, simply because these coaches believe the best athletes are coachable and possess superior physical skills and an aptitude for the game that should be easily transitioned to a new role. This approach undoubtedly calls for much more interaction early on, with some expectation of trial and error as the new member adjusts to the new role and responsibilities.
These two very different approaches each have opportunities for success, but what determines which approach is better for our organizations? This is where the nuances become important.
I have a tremendous employee who is a star in their current position. As I employ the team building process, I want to choose this person for a supervisory role, assuming it will be an easy transition. But when promotion occurs, they struggle mightily and I am left wondering what happened to my all-star. In an effort to help them, I switch to ‘building a team’ mode, and spend time trying to develop the individual through coaching, training, and mentoring, I still cannot capture the same level of performance displayed in their previous role.
Sound familiar? If it does, you may have approached similar challenges much like I did. What I’ve learned from this is for team building to work, I must build a team designed to grow with me.
The head coach of the New England patriots provides a great example of the subtleties within each philosophy. It is difficult to argue against the success this team has enjoyed over the last decade, and yet Bill Belichik does not recruit the best overall athlete or the best athlete at their given position. Instead, he recruits athletes who specifically compliment one other within the system he has designed, and a system in which he himself has developed. In return, the fine-tuning that has been made over the last decade reaffirms the success of the organization and the particular manner in which it seeks to perform; framing the opportunity for the selected player in very simple terms: If you don’t fit in the system you don’t make it, regardless of your athletic ability.
This illustrates the power of a hybrid model incorporating from both the team building and building a team philosophies. Organizational success supersedes individual achievement and requires more than athletic ability or talent. It requires humility and a commitment to a greater purpose. In the last decade, rarely has an individual player left the Patriots organization and enjoyed similar success elsewhere. This is attributed testimony to the system and the selection and implementation of the right people.