Thursday, August 6, 2009

It Takes A Village

I had a chance to read several different articles recently that at least to me reinforced something I have always intuitively believed, collaboration is more powerful than individual excellence in an organizational setting.

In many of the presentations that I do I use the illustration of the Nigerian soccer team in the Olympics a few years back. The team was composed of a group of people who were committed to the game and committed to each other. There were no "superstars" that would be recognized internationally. The interesting thing is that this group of committed individuals went on to defeat the "best" teams in the world and win the gold medal.

I think many cultures, at least western ones love the concept of the hero or all star. The individual who will ensure victory. The interesting thing is that these are usually individual contributors. I differentiate these individual contributors, even "superstars" from leaders. I think it is two different skill sets.

Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford is one of my favorite organizational development "gurus". He has written a short article on BNET about so called "stars" in the financial industry and the practice of large players to recruit such "stars" and pay them fabulous sums of money. He decided to do some research on the ROI of such investments. He found they typically fell flat, the "stars" performance rarely approached their previous performance much less exceeded it. He points out similar correlations in professional sports. A great recent example is soccer star David Beckham. The LA franchise that acquired him has yet to see the benefits of the dollars they invested in winning matches. They have seen gate receipts go up because fans will pay to see him play.

Pfeffer points out that it would seem that environment and coaching play a huge role in performance. Having supportive colleagues, access to resources, and good management and coaching seem to matter quite a lot. I think Malcolm Gladwell makes a similar point in Outliers, people who excelled had great innate ability, but they also had access to resources and a highly supportive environment.

The other interview clip I saw on BNET included industry leaders including the VP of Innovation for Google. She was asked about the impact of the recession and other factors leading to innovation or the lack there of. Interestingly she posited that once again the key differential in high performing companies is the human capital and creating and nurturing an environment that allows them to contribute. Pretty interesting coming from a technology firm. She also pointed out that many great companies had their genesis in recessionary times, the people at the firms collectively rose to the challenge and innovated and over came the obstacles.

As a student and advocate of engagement I am a big believer in this model. Statistics show that organizations with high engagement increase per capita 21% higher than their peers and outperform their peers and competitors on every critical metric. The key is that this is collective performance and per capita. The approach is collaborative rather than reliant upon "superstars".

In my previous post Dr. Dolan of the University of Michigan talks about a key attribute of leadership being the creation of an environment that attracts talent and its development. The role of the leader is to attract and develop, not to "perform" tasks as an individual.

So where am I going with this? I am not suggesting that you discard efforts to hire the "best and the brightest", but rather than suggesting that you not rely on hiring somebody else's superstar to increase your organizational performance as an exclusive strategy. Creating engagement and raising the collective talents and performance of your organization would seem to be a much more effective long term strategy.

Leadership should be evaluated in terms of their ability to build and create strong teams and develop talent rather than on the basis of individual accomplishments and talents. Being an excellent "coach" is more valuable than being the best "player" for those we put in management and leadership roles.

Just something to think about....

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Blogger captain dogra said...

Hi Mark,
I have read your post twice and still taking time to absorb--the contents and share my views/observations--
My students are doing project studies on Employee engagement--and I am a strong supporter of Organizations who go out of their way to build employee engagement--I remember my days at GE and we were excellently kept engaged--which paid good dividends to GE--
Another US MNC viz.BD was a company where employee engagement was minimal--People had a nice time but no growth and Senior managers were busy playing Golf or engaging in practices that were totally for personal fulfillment--The organization still survives but the more i read about failed organizations in US and Europe--I think of my days at BD and realize how a few self-serving professionals create pit for their younger managers and set up bad examples out of their greed and unethical behaviors.
Collaboration vs Superheroes is something we take time to learn as we grow wiser-and older--
Young ones have competitive blood in their veins and everybody wants to be one up than the other--but there is a joy and a different sense of acheivement when we collaborate and win all--as a group--
I enjoyed reading your post--

August 16, 2009 8:55 AM  

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