April 30, 2014

Building a Superstar team

"A" players hire "A" players
You may have heard this quote attributed to Steve Jobs, “‘A’ players hire ‘A’ players; ‘B’ players hire ‘C’ players”
In my career, I’ve found it to be consistently true. And, I’ve learned that it’s also rarely that simple.
Team makeup impacts everyone's performance
Any one person’s performance is, to some degree dependent on team composition: the diversity of skills, relevant experience, role clarity, work style preferences and personalities involved. And this means are times that “A” players find themselves within team dynamics that constrain them to performing at a “B” or “C” level. And this is frustrating to everyone involved
One way this can happen is if team leaders approach hiring as simply filling a role versus building a high performing team.
Superstars can lift everyone’s performance
Of course there are times when hiring superstar performers lift the productivity of the team. However, this rarely happens by accident. It requires active, engaged leadership (with help from their HR partner) to identify and articulate what the “right” A player would need to bring to the team.
Lou Adler shared his hiring philosophy that there are four kinds of work types: Thinkers, Builders, Improvers and Producers. And that while each type is necessary at all stages in a company’s life cycle, the balance shifts over time.  With companies needing more Thinkers and Builders at the outset and more Improvers and Producers as it matures.
Identify the hill to take or to take the hill?
Adler’s article reminded me of an interview early in my career where a startup CEO asked me, “do you prefer a) to be the one to identify the hill to take? or b) to be the one to take the hill?
At the time, I fumbled through my response because I thought it was a trick question. With time and experience on the other side of the hiring desk, I see it now for what it was. A genuine way of trying to get to know me in an interview setting.  
There isn’t a “right” answer to his question and my picking a) didn’t mean I couldn’t execute, nor did picking b) mean I wasn’t strategic. It’s simply an effective question designed to help him learn who I was, how I work and where I find my flow. This is critical information needed when assessing who to bring onto a team.
Team member diversity
Having different kinds of people on a team make it a stronger team. And that’s not just some management platitude, Harvard Business Review cited a study which confirmed when teams are diverse, more meaningful innovation occurs.
But successfully managing a diverse team can be harder on its leader. There is greater need for role clarity, communications and successful mediation of inevitable conflict. And I suspect this is may be why some managers struggle with the act of team planning and opt to forgo team diversity for homogeneity.

And by the way, if you’re interested, I prefer to “take the hill” :)

Related links:
Good leaders get out of their own heads