In Major League Baseball, 36 players will make at least $20 million this season. It’s a staggering amount of money, especially when you consider that individual skill doesn’t always equal team performance. The New York Yankees have 4 of the top ten highest-paid players, but are currently 4th in the American League; the Detroit Tigers are next with 3 players on the list, but are 14th out of 15 teams in the AL. Sure, there are other factors that are important to team owners like ticket sales, television coverage, and merchandising. But as one MVP said, “Payroll doesn’t mean everything. If that was the case, the Yankees would win every year.” The lesson is clear: if the goal is to build a team that can win a championship (and therefore better deliver on the other metrics that matter), star talent shouldn’t be the only factor considered.
The same is true in business: star players do not, by themselves, propel an organization to the top. While it’s true that high-performing leaders can impact business results, any gains will be short lived unless they can also work well on a team and exemplify the organization’s culture and values. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the choices you make in assembling your team and how serious the organization thinks you are about what you’re trying to drive. Are team members able to work together? Are they able to take an organizational perspective and put the success of the team ahead of their own goals? Does their behavior reflect the organization’s culture and values? Are they able to inspire others to do the same? The answers to these questions paint a clear picture of the message your team is sending to the organization.
I worked with a new CEO who’d been tasked with transforming his organization. After several underperforming years, they’d gone through a merger, and collectively the organization could best be described as skeptical. People were wary of investing their energy when they didn’t know what to expect next. Past efforts at developing a strong team-based culture had been experienced as little more than lip-service, so employees were looking for signals that leaders were taking the transformation seriously before they’d follow suit. People in the organization experienced the senior leadership team as divided, and as working in ways that benefitted their own interests at the expense of the company as a whole. In his haste to build out a team and establish momentum, the CEO brought three people onto his leadership team who proved to be functionally focused but lacking in leadership skills. Imagine the message this sent when, on the one hand, people were hearing about the importance of working as a team, but on the other hand were experiencing a senior team who didn’t fit with those ideals. People listen more to what you do than what you say, and the senior team was speaking volumes with their behavior. It’s not a question of achieving results OR fitting with the culture. It must be an AND – team members must be able to do the job AND exemplify the culture.
What kind of team are you building? Are they star performers who are functionally strong but weak in leadership? Do they set the tone for the culture you’re trying to create? Are you overlooking any detrimental behaviors or skill gaps in the name of performance or speed? Whether you’re the senior leader assembling the team or a member who’s serving on it, how well do your actions match your words?