The Link Between Talent and Teamwork: Why is it So Undervalued?

From the HR blog at TLNT.
From the HR blog at TLNT.

I’ve always thought that the impact of a single person on an organization is fleeting. Even extremely talented individuals have limited impact without a cast of supporting people, opportune circumstances, and even, yes, a little bit of luck.

And while talent is universally prized and sought after (how many more “A players” articles do we have to put up with?), picking people who work well together and who make others better is ignored. We select managers because they can figure out team dynamics, get around personal disputes, and get optimal results — but we don’t pick employees that way.

And nowhere is that more true than in professional team sports. There’s a common goal and it requires everyone working together to get them. While teamwork is emphasized in professional sports public relations campaigns, many teams ignore that and simply try to assemble the most talented roster of players. Rarely does this tactic work.

As talent professionals, we need to admit that sometimes you don’t need a purple squirrel (or a super-hero squirrel).

Talent-holics Anonymous

Every time I’ve suggested we don’t need a purple squirrel, I’ve been initially rebuffed. “We need the best for every position,” they say. “We always want the more talented person,” they add.

I’ve been embarrassed to bring it up. I’ve felt guilty for even hinting that the company I worked for didn’t deserve the best possible employee. That is, until I realized that I did want the best employee for the position, it just wasn’t always the most talented one.

My position was much harder to justify, it was simpler and it took time to see that the approach worked. Certainly not having an unlimited budget has helped some of these conversations, but some of the more helpful examples have come from sports.

Pro teams demonstrate pain points

The NBA’s Miami Heat are off to a rough start, but the New Orleans Hornets are not. On paper, the heralded Miami Heat should be dominating their opponents, but they are not. They have two of the best five players in the league as well as a top 25 player.

The New Orleans Hornets, by comparison, only have a top 10 player and a couple of solid top 50 players, but they are exceeding expectations and outperforming the star-studded Heat. Both have young, unproven coaches. Both have played tough schedules so far. What’s the difference?

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The devil is in the details. The Heat’s top two players are, without a doubt, the most talented on the floor most nights. Yet they don’t compliment each other well. It has made their offense go in fits and spurts sometimes. The lack of size and depth of their roster has also hurt them. Because they spent a lot of money luring these talented players to Miami, they just spent the bare minimum on a supporting cast. The New Orleans Hornets, on the other hand, have complimentary players and a deeper bench.

For those who focus on talent alone, those are some confusing results. The Heat should be much better and the Hornets should be a lot worse. Yet, there is another thing at play here.

Teamwork does matter

Team dynamics, roles, and chemistry all play a part in this discussion. Right now, it is talked about on every major sports news outlet. The same people who believed the Heat might challenge the Chicago Bulls’ record setting 72-10 regular season record are now asking why it hasn’t worked out in Miami.

Unfortunately, this happens in companies all of the time. The focus during the hiring process is all about talent, but the discussions about retention and performance when they are employees focus on how they fit in with the company and their role. Shouldn’t we be a little more thoughtful about the role culture, teamwork, and strengths as they compare to others on your team, as we look to bring on new employees?

Let’s not go overboard and say the only thing that matters is teamwork. That would be just as bad as the people those who focus solely on talent. After all, you still need people to execute those plans and work together.

But we can also acknowledge that teamwork is undervalued during the hiring process — and it takes guts to seriously incorporate it into your hiring process. It is up to talent professionals everywhere to step up to the plate and make the argument.


11 Comments on “The Link Between Talent and Teamwork: Why is it So Undervalued?

  1. A team builder should be about finding the strongest “player” for the given need who works well within the team. None of that can be separated. If you don’t have a real team, the person doesn’t matter. If they don’t work well, the team doesn’t matter and if the “player” isn’t the strongest possible for that level of team, then adding the person can be a HUGE mistake.
    Equally, the team builder MUST help the team accommodate for the talent strengths of the new “player”. The team builder MUST help each “player” continue to lead in the area of their strength while adding the NEW strength of the new “player”
    Excellent points made in this article.

  2. Okay, so I get it. You gotta have a Scottie Pippen to your Michael Jordan. Chemistry. Right. Except you know me… I wonder if the team chemistry thing is overrated.

    On a more serious note: I wonder if recruiters and hiring managers are actually keen enough to see how talent comes together? I doubt it because we’d have higher performing companies, healthier organizational dynamics, and fewer OD/OE consultancy firms.

    1. Team chemistry is probably overrated in many sports circles but still underrated in corporate America.

      I don’t know if recruiters have enough vested interest to care how talent comes together. Hiring managers should but I think you’re right, they either aren’t keen enough, are overlooking it or think it is overrated. At the worst, I think it is a consideration to make.

  3. Hi Lance,

    Great reference to “the star-studded Heat,” in respect to the undervalued concept of teamwork.

    Considering that the “purple squirrel” should be the best for the particular position, and not the most talented, where do we find them? And what are the determining factors?

    Since referrals are the most effective recruiting effort, talent communities with a 3rd degree connection (such as Cachinko) reach those passive candidates who are proven to work better with others and take over the supporting roles.

    Determining factors, such as teamwork, can’t be can plan for domination, but a new feature in social media recruiting solutions (social ATS) allows you to effectively compare and evaluate candidates in a social, two-way interactive environment. You’re not strictly focused on the paper resume, but more on the candidates’ communication patterns, which can provide an insight to their participation in teamwork.

    Great post!

  4. I agree as a recruiter at times I am frustrated because some clients or quick to go for talent or common dominiators and don’t think about long term if a candidate is going to be a great fit. Indeed hiring the right person is difficult but it is very important to consider all factors: experience, personality and long-term productivity and success. Hiring a new employee is like a union. Painting the picture of a union: communication, attitude, willing to learn, team work, ownership in position, responsibility and committment to company.

    Tiffany Thompson
    President/ Recruiter
    DaMar Staffing Solutions of Indianapolis

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