I recently read that a cup of brewed coffee is only 4% coffee–the rest is water. When I read this, it struck me that such a small fraction could determine the essence of something and how it operates.
I work in Silicon Valley, where it’s extremely common for companies to prioritize the cultural fit of job candidates as highly as their skill set. But while many leaders believe if you hire only A-players, then you should end up with an A-team, this isn’t always the case.
The idea that all superstar performers will create unprecedented excellence at your company is actually a myth for a couple reasons:
Motivated by credit, praise, promotions, and raises, Superstar employees are often amazing individual contributors. But they are not always amazing to work with.
When multiple A-listers are on one team, unless the culture aggressively fosters collaboration and cooperation, they can become competitive with each other, hoard resources, and spend way too much time focusing on what each other is doing, versus focusing on beating your company’s actual competitors in the marketplace.
Who we perceive to be the star players are often people with years of experience or amazing credentials, people who have the ability to beautifully articulate well-designed strategies, and people who present a polished and persuasive persona in the interview room. But we often don’t prioritize someone’s ability to perform the routine or granular tasks that actually need to get done on a daily basis for your team to succeed.
If we are serious about creating A-teams across our organizations, leaders must make sure we’re clear on the hard and soft skills every role requires and the sort of people who will enjoy and thrive on a particular role’s daily tasks.
For example, for a customer service role, you might want someone who gets an “A” for empathy, active listening, and creating calm in chaotic situations rather than someone who can preach the heck out of a set of slides.
To make your A-team complete, it’s your job as a leader to ensure these four conditions exist in the workplace:
Even the best and the brightest people in the world will stagnate and underperform if they are not on fire about the change that your company is trying to create for your customers, or for the world.
To create and maintain the alignment to mission that unlocks A-team potential it’s essential you articulate the company and team vision and mission in a way that energizes and activates the individual players on your team, do this on an ongoing basis, and bring on people whose personal purpose aligns to the collective mission.
Many businesses that suffer from “great people–poor performance” syndrome struggle with leadership issues including:
- Weak decision-making and problem-solving abilities
- Allowing dysfunctional patterns and initiatives to persist
- Lack of accountability
- Insufficient communication channels
- Unclear or ever-changing focus
When leadership solves for these sorts of issues, it is very powerful. Not only does it eliminate the glitches that can cause A-players to perform poorly as individuals and unlock their highest individual potential, it also removes the frictions that prevent them from coalescing into an A-team.
A-players cannot bring their A-game or become an A-team without each individual player–and the team as a collective–having the resources they need. It’s your job as a leader to determine, locate, fight for, and secure the resources your team needs to be successful at executing on team and company missions.
When different team members get wildly different levels of resources, it creates a negative atmosphere of unnecessary scarcity and jealousy, infighting, and competition.
Brilliant brains are still human brains–this means they thrive, innovate, and execute best in a certain set of circumstances. They need food and rest, novelty, and challenging problems, and clear guidelines and constraints. They also need clarity of mission, purpose, and the top two or three objectives they should be fixated on driving.
A-players are important, but they’re not the only conditions necessary for A-teams. What are you doing to coalesce your team members into an A-team?
—Tara-Nicholle Nelson is the vice president of marketing for MyFitnessPal, a health and fitness app with more than 65 million users worldwide. In this role, she leads the user growth, engagement, brand, and user insight strategies that fuel the company’s vision of a world in which healthy living is the norm. Nelson’s teams cover digital growth marketing, email and engagement, PR and communications, and content marketing programs.