Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Teams Outperform Individuals - Sometimes

Tempting though it is to think we can do everything ourselves, in fact our best work gets done with other people. We depend on the skills, experience and knowledge of others to achieve really great work.

Think about scientific breakthroughs like Crick and Watson’s breakthrough with DNA. Think about Wedgwood’s brilliant partnership with Bentley creating the world’s most famous ceramics business. Think about Jobs and Wozniak creating Apple. Although Warren Buffet is the name we recognise as the world’s most successful investor, in fact he has a long-term partner and sounding board – Charlie Monger.  Just yesterday Buffett said that he had lost $873 million with a power utility stock. This was an investment he had made without consulting Monger. Next time, he said, I’ll call Charlie. It seems everyone needs to be part of a team.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not always so easy.  Not all teams are successful. In fact some are spectacularly unsuccessful, and would do better to have people work independently. So what’s the key?

Having complementary skills and experience seems to be a big part of it. With Buffett and Monger, Buffett is the optimist and Monger the pessimist. Between them they cover all bases and make outstanding decisions.

Think about a football team. If you had 11 goalkeepers, or 11 strikers, it wouldn’t be very effective. You need defenders, midfielders, even left and right midfielders, plus strikers and of course goalkeepers. All members of the team have to be proficient in their own right, but also good at working as a team to create goal scoring opportunities. I think the football team is quite a useful analogy in business. We can’t all be strikers. We don’t all have the talent, ability, experience or inclination. But we do all have specific skills that are important within teams.

The key is to understand and appreciate what each person brings to the team, and to ensure their skills are acknowledged and used in the best way.  It’s not always easy, but perhaps a key part of achieving important things.  

What would our businesses be like if we weren’t so obsessed with taking the credit for things? They might be more effective, and a great deal happier.

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