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Build Your Own All-Star Team

Build Your Own All-Star Team

If you want to boost the productivity of your organization’s human capital, high performers need to be on all-star teams.

  • min read


Build Your Own All-Star Team

This article first appeared on HBR.org.

Let’s imagine that you have recently assessed your company’s talent, and that you found plenty of high-performing executives and employees. Yet somehow your company’s overall performance isn’t where it should be — all those “A” players just aren’t getting the job done. Why?

The fact is, it isn’t enough just to hire the best. If you want to boost the productivity of your organization’s human capital, you also have to deploy those high performers effectively — put them to work so they can deliver the results they’re capable of. One of the most effective methods of deployment I’ve seen is to create all-star teams. Teams like these are a kind of force multiplier: if you group (say) three individuals from your list of A players into a team, you’ll typically get more than three times the output.

High-performing teams are the secret behind many extraordinary accomplishments. In the 1990s, for instance, then-CEO Mickey Drexler turned Gap around by creating a team of A-list merchants and designers, including luminaries such as Maureen Chiquet, now CEO at Chanel, and Andy Janowski, who later became CEO of Smythson. The team transformed Gap’s products and stores and helped the company grow faster than any other retail brand at the time.

More recently, SpaceX, the rocketry and spacecraft company founded by legendary entrepreneur Elon Musk, developed its Falcon 9 launch vehicle for just over $300 million. A NASA analysis determined that the space agency would have had to spend nearly $1.4 billion to achieve the same result. One big difference according to NASA: SpaceX relied on many fewer people. Its engineers worked long hours, probably longer than their NASA counterparts would have. But even more important was the efficiency and productivity of SpaceX’s top-performing design teams, which developed and launched the rocket for a fraction of what it would have cost NASA.

Many companies fail to take advantage of the force multiplier because their organizational systems get in the way. Here are three tips that may help you get past those internal obstacles:

  1. Rank and reward team performance, not individual performance. Some companies rate individuals against each other and give disproportionate rewards to the top performers. These “stacked ranking” systems may sound appealing, but they work against high-performance teams. When there’s stacked ranking, people who are A players typically decline to collaborate with other top performers, for fear their ranking and incentive compensation will suffer. You’ll escape this trap if you reward team rather than individual results.
  2. Create an inspiring goal. You can’t put your top-performing teams on every job — there aren’t enough A players to go around. So save these teams for the mission-critical tasks, and make sure every member understands the tasks’ importance. Teams of Navy SEALS and the best NASCAR pit crews succeed because every team member is a high performer and because they all know that achieving their goal matters. The teams at Gap and SpaceX were doing jobs that would determine the future of the company. If you want your top performers to work productively together and forget about their sometimes-large egos, you have to inspire them to put the mission first.
  3. Put top leaders in charge of top teams. A 2012 academic study of a large company’s front-line supervisors concluded that, as one summary put it, “The most efficient structure is to assign the best workers to the best bosses.” Great bosses bring out the best in people by getting them to work more effectively. Think of Ford Motor Co. over the past 20 years: until 2006, its finances were shaky, and it was losing about a point of market share every year. Then Alan Mulally became CEO, and only a few years later Ford was making money and gaining share. Yet Mulally’s senior team is mostly the same group of individuals who were there while Ford was struggling. The difference was leadership.

The force multiplier from effective teaming and deployment is powerful: companies that tap into it can expect to improve their human capital productivity significantly. Like Ford, Gap, and SpaceX, they can perform better than anyone could reasonably have expected.


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