The team approach is underrated

Messi (Soccer), Lebron James (Basketball), Jerry Rice (Football), Michael Schumacher (Formula One) and Barry Bonds (Baseball) are all famous for being among the best of the best in their field. You probably know them all.

The reason why they are so famous is that they are the ones that, because of their role, people directly related them with the team’s success. Just to give you an example, in soccer most famous players are strikers or left/right-wingers. There are no right or left-backs in the list of most famous players in the history of soccer. However, you not only win a game by making a goal, but also by preventing that the other team makes a goal to your team.

In companies, we see the same situation. As a person that helped other companies to build their data teams, I saw over and over again how companies focus on finding an almighty rockstar that saves the day. This approach hasn’t been demonstrated to be very effective and drives, more often than not, to failure. Why? Well, companies are systems, and what’s a system? It’s a set of things (people, capital, technology, patents, etc) interacting together with a common objective. In the case of companies, the objective is generating present and future value.

There are two profoundly different team approaches in terms of the theory of systems, I’ll try to be very brief in the explanation, so my apologies if my simplistic approach is leaving aside tons of valuable information about the theory of systems:

1- Holistic team approach: The holistic approach takes the system as a whole, separates it into parts, and improves the parts as a way of improving the whole. So this approach is focused on the parts of the systems.

2- Systemic team approach: The systemic approach evaluates the interactions between the parts of the systems and tries to improve those interactions one by one, starting with those that are preventing the system to improve its results. Why one by one? Because systems are alive and when you modify one of their parts or interactions, everything changes. So it makes no sense to change everything together because is possible that your second bottleneck in the system, is not a bottleneck anymore after you solved the first one.

Let’s see this in a simple example with soccer. As per the Holistic approach if you have the best 11 soccer players in a team you will win. If you know anything about soccer (or any other sport) you will easily realize how absurd this premise is.

The winning teams are not the ones with the best players but the ones with those players that even when they are not extraordinarily good (good enough for the class they are playing) they interact in the best way. 

In 2009, Estudiantes de la Plata (My favorite soccer team) played against Barcelona (Barca) FIFA Club World Cup Final. “El Barca” has a value of around 3.28BB and hires some of the best soccer players in the world (including Messi). On the other hand, the Estudiantes de La Plata’s team, worth probably less than 50 million dollars, and none of the team members were outstanding players. So how can Estudiantes de La Plata be in the FIFA Club World Cup Final playing against Barca? Because its team members interacted outstandingly, mainly because of the great leadership of Juan Sebastian Veron. 

Getting back to companies. The best results are achieved by those companies with great leadership that allows every team member who understands what it’s expected from them (here Analytics is key, goals, and metrics are the best way to keep people laser-focused in those activities that the company is expecting from them) and how they can get there. However, it is shocking to know that most companies invest nothing or very little in team building. The best new team member is not just the most capable, but also the one that can better fit in the current team. 

So, here are the key ideas about team approaches:

1- Team approach doesn’t mean lack of leadership.

2- Companies are systems and they have to be treated as what they are.

3- Don’t be tempted to use the Holistic approach of systems, go for the Systemic approach.

4- Stop wasting your time looking for rockstars, work on and with the team.

3- Never attribute your company results to a single person, but to the team. This is not a nice thing to do, it’s just the simple reality.

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