Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great Innovation Teams Are Not Simply A Collection Of Great Individuals

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.” – 1980 U.S.A. Olympic Hockey Coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) during a discussion with Assistant Coach Craig Patrick (played by Noah Emmerich) concerning Olympic hockey team selection, from the motion picture Miracle (2004)

My son performed well enough during a baseball evaluation process this past spring to warrant being selected for the local summer 10AAA travel baseball team. And because he did well enough, I was subsequently given the opportunity to be the head coach. One of my first duties was to select the team.

About 80 kids tried out for the 10 year old travel teams in our community. Ultimately five travel teams would be assembled, but only one top tier AAA team was being formed. Every kid that tried out went through a fairly extensive evaluation process, utilizing independent evaluators and multiple stations and criteria to score each participant. When evaluations were complete I was provided a comprehensive set of evaluation spreadsheets with scores for all 80 kids. From this list, I in conjunction with an association “selection committee” put together a team of 12.

In putting together a baseball team, common sense – let alone the rules - tells you that it’s not feasible to select everyone. Nor is it feasible to put everyone in your organization on every innovation team you create. You might expect innovation to be everyone’s responsibility, but don’t attempt to have them participate on every individual team. Choices need to be made. The factors you use to create teams might vary from organization to organization, division to division, or even team to team depending on the directive. But generally speaking I’d think you’d look at individual abilities, the need for intellectual, demographic, cultural, and educational diversity, as well as other elements. And although many might prefer not to acknowledge such things, politics and favoritism can creep into the process as well.

In an effort to scuttle complaints concerning politics and favoritism, a decade or more ago athletic associations all across the country began moving toward “objective” evaluations – processes that utilized independent evaluators documenting easily measured criteria. Once kids were evaluated using this method, teams were often formed by simply selecting the top 10 score getters, or top 12 score getters, etc. depending on the particular sport or team being formed. Such a process is relatively transparent, easily understood by kids and parents, and is arguably “fair”. But it doesn’t inherently result in the best teams.

A collection of great individuals does not necessarily make a great team. The 2004 U.S. Olympic basketball team should be evidence of this. This team, which included a young LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony lost more games than all other U.S. Olympic basketball teams combined. They walked away with a Bronze Medal.

I’ll not bore you with all the details of our baseball team selection process, other than to simply say that our association has created a fairly robust evaluation process – one that has removed politics and favoritism by making the process “objective”, yet preserved the ultimate goal of creating quality teams (not simply a collection of good individuals) by allowing for other factors. I wasn’t’ forced for instance to blindly select all the kids that scored highest in their evaluation. There are other considerations to be made.

The 10AAA team I coached this summer was a very special team. The team won a state championship and had an overall record of 24-1. Arguably the process worked. Arguably we selected the right kids for the team.

Hopefully your best innovation players are also the right players. Putting an innovation team together under such circumstances is pretty easy. If the best aren’t right for the team though, you might have to make some tough decisions. Depending on your own definition of “best”, don’t blindly select the “best” individuals. This might be psychologically difficult, but realize you’re putting together a team, not a collection of the best individuals. For me personally, if faced with the choice, I’d take the right players over the best every time.

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