Team Leadership
Months ago, a senior leader asked me how I move my B players along to free up room for my A players.  I told him I don’t.

Instead, I explained that I have a system that allows me to get the best performance out of what someone else might consider a B player.  That my methods often make them perform like A’s.

It’s easy to see where the question is coming from.  There are some individuals that seem to excel, no matter the conditions or expectations.  It could be they just haven’t been put in the right (or wrong) conditions to falter, but they are out there.

However, even talented, high-potential individuals may struggle in a role that is undefined, a poor fit and/or lacking leadership support.

Another System

I recently read “The Blind Side” – the book that inspired the movie.  Most think the book and movie are about Michael Oher’s path to the NFL.  They are, but the book is really about the evolution of football that created the need for a Michael Oher.

Of particular fascination to me was the development of football’s west coast offense, originally developed by Bill Walsh.

Prior to Walsh, there were equal average yardage gains in running and passing plays.  In passing, however, there were greater risks of errors, between interceptions and fumbles.  As a result, teams tended to run more than pass, to a ratio of 60/40.

Walsh determined that short, fast passes were a way to quickly get the ball up field with less risk.  Instead of long passes, which had a low percentage of accuracy and completion, he pursued short passes, with the quarterback limiting their receivers to only a primary, secondary and alternate.

Walsh was assigned to some of the worst offensive teams in the country, who became some of the best under his watch.  Quarterbacks who were previously seen as less than optimal – including JOE MONTANA – were outperforming every other quarterback in the league in yardage and completions.

The beauty, and necessity, of Walsh’s system was that he could take moderately good players and make them great, because his system played to their strengths.

Once other teams discovered Walsh’s formula, they began to emulate it.  With the new west coast offense, teams were passing more than running, to a ratio of 60/40.

For decades, running and passing averaged 4 yards per play.  The new offense has pushed passing to over 7 yards per play (including yards after the pass) and the average continues to grow.

In the land of the Patriots and Red Sox, this book was like a roadmap, explaining their success.  How a high-performing system could outperform a less-organized group of superstars.

 

My System

Like Walsh, I believe in having a system that optimizes the skills of my team.  In position players over interchangeable ones.  In passion over perfection.

 

1.  Know Your Team

There is nothing more important to a leader’s success than his or her people.  I find that understanding each individual’s passion and interests is a critical first step when I take on a new team.

 

2.  Know Your Work

What type of value, or outcomes, need to be accomplished by the team?  Often, there is a mix of different types of work.  Today, everyone may be performing a range of duties.  However, not all work is created equal – nor is every person.

 

3.  Align the Team to the Work

Once everyone’s skills and passions are identified, as well as all the different types of work, there is an opportunity to shift work around until the formula for success is realized.  Until each person is performing work that plays to his or her passions and ability.

 

This process is what makes what others may call B players perform like A’s.  Why?  Because when you put someone in a role that’s designed for them, they perform better.  They can put in a fraction of the effort to get the same results as someone else who is not designed for that work.

This may sound like a simple formula, and it is.  Easy, it is not.

There may be resistance to the changes necessary to realign the team and their work.  Some common examples are included below.

 

“What if I get bored?”

Individuals on the team may like the idea of many types of work because they think being a jack of all trades is the key to success.  Being the best at one or two things should be pursued over being above-average at ten or average at twenty.  Ask for a chance to help them achieve their full potential.

 

“But I need to work on [insert high visibility effort here] to get ahead.”

There may be work that isn’t “sexy” that someone is good at and enjoys doing, but does not often get recognized.  Commit to, and deliver on celebrating, developing, and looking for advancement opportunities for all high-performers, even those in support roles.

 

“I do not yet know how to do [effort they want to do] and I know you need me to do [effort they are skilled at]”

Not everything may fall into place for every person on the team at the same time.  It may take job shadowing, or temporarily filling a less than optimal role to make all the moves possible.  Commit to a timeframe and a transition plan and keep communication open.

 

Over the years, I have seen this system drive higher volumes (more projects, calls, etc) in less time, with fewer resources and higher quality.  The same resources and the same work, but by focusing on the value each person can bring to the table, creating improved engagement and outcomes.

 

Think about your own system, on what it needs to be successful.  What it rewards and the type of engagement it creates within the team.  I’d love if you could share some of your ideas and feedback in the comments and keep the conversation going.

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