Eleven best vs best eleven

Do people enjoy working together – or do they merely tolerate each other?

“We only hire the brightest and the best,” an HR head said to me the other day. And if you’ve hired people for your organisation, you’d probably say the same thing too. We all look to hire the very best people we can find. And afford. Maybe it’s time to do a rethink.

The teams that win aren’t always the ones that have the best talent, or the brightest minds. Look around, and you’ll see that across businesses, across industries, there’s clearly something else that seems to predicate success. The Indian Premier League is a good example of that too. There’s a team that boasts of  Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle and A B DeVilliers – three of  the best in the business – and they haven’t won any silverware just yet.

And then there’s the Rajasthan Royals – the champion team of 2008. Led then by a 38-year-old former great, it boasted of a 19-year-old rookie called Ravindra Jadeja, an opener from Goa called Asnodkar, and a big-hitting Pathan from Baroda whose younger brother was the more famous India player. No big stars. And they finished on top. There’s a lesson in there for those of us looking to build a terrific team. Don’t aim to build a team of stars. Try and build a star team. A team wins not because it has the eleven best people playing, but because it has the best eleven. Think about it. Hiring well is not about getting the best talent to work for you. It’s about getting the right talent in. And leveraging the power of  teamwork. How can you do that? Here are three pointers to hiring for success:

1. Good-fit  vs great guy: Before you hire, make sure you have a clear understanding of the role you are hiring for. Remember, what you are looking for is a person who fits the role. Not just a great guy! We are all guilty of interviewing a person, finding that she or he doesn’t fit the role – but still wanting to hire them because they are great talents. “We’ll find a role… let’s just get them on board,” goes the refrain. Result? A lot of smart people join the team, with no clearly defined roles. Expectations are unclear, reporting lines get blurred, accountability is diluted and great talents feel under-utilised, under-valued and eventually end up becoming under-performers. Having two outstanding batsmen in the reserves is not of  much use if a good wrist spinner is what the team needs.

2. The right chemistry: Great teams are created not just when you have star performers in each role – but when they come together to make magic. Do people enjoy working together – or do they merely tolerate each other? Great organisations and teams get built when teammates respect each other – and enjoy each other’s company. Check for chemistry – before you hire! I know of the head of a private equity fund who has an interesting hiring process. Once she thinks she’s got the right person for the role, she will get several of  her colleagues to meet the candidate and spend time with him. Over dinners and lunches and shoot-the-breeze sessions, the team gets a good sense of  whether they’d enjoy working with the new hire. Or not. And equally important, the candidate gets a feel for whether this is a bunch of people he wants to spend his working hours with. A clear win-win.


3. Eagles in formation: As PepsiCo India began to build out its team nearly three decades ago, the brief was simple. Hire eagles who will fly in formation. In looking for eagles, they were looking for high-fliers all right. But the caveat – and the secret sauce – was that the cola company was looking for high fliers who were good team players too. When hiring, we tend to focus too much on the individual and his skills – and spend too little time testing for the attitude and team-player bit. Eagles who refuse to fly in formation might  deliver in the short-term – these are after all, high fliers – but soon, politics, rivalries, silos and turf  wars become the norm. And performance suffers.

As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships. Good lesson to remember. The best eleven trumps the eleven best.  Any day.

Reprinted with permission from BW I BUSINESSWORLD, India


Prakash Iyer

Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever

Eleven best vs best eleven
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