[Talent Keys for Entrepreneurs] It’s Not Just About “A” Team Players

Sachin Rekhi’s post PayPals Wars and its Lessons for Today’s Entrepreneurs caught my attention as I surfaced between US professional football (NFL for the locals) league play-offs this weekend. While there is much about the post that is spot-on right – strong vision coupled with short term pragmatic goals, push decision-making down as far as possible, etc. –  Sachin makes the case that “It’s all about assembling an A-team.”

And on that point he’s spot-on wrong.

The enduring myth in business – as well is sports – is that if you throw together “A” talent you get “A” teams results. That’s not what the research shows, and in fact that’s not what even our common experience anywhere provides. You get great results when you have good talent that works well together, good execution, and good strategy.

High performance business performance team experts Douglas Smith and Jon Katzenbach – authors of The Wisdom Team: Creating the High Performance Organizationhave distilled down the types of attributes required for performance. Simply having “A” players is the least of it. You need wisdom, savvy, and frequently experience to get talent to work well together.

Bill Fisher and Andy Boynton‘s work on exceptional teams – high performance teams they dub “virtuoso teams”  – echoes the Smith and Katzenbach research: it’s not just the talents of the players, but it’s how they work  together that counts.

As done in an exercise called “Road Trip” that’s used with start-ups and existing leadership teams in my consulting practice, performance for a team has 4 critical elements:

  • Clear destination(s) and goals
  • Understood and specific deliverables and milestones
  • Agreed roles and responsibilities that can be performed competently by team members
  • Understood and agreed ways and norms of working together

The myth of “A” team players thrown together and magically performing to high levels in business lingers somehow, unsupported by either research or experience. For founding entrepreneurs, the trick is to have – or get – the smarts and wisdom to help your team perform to “A” team levels. Teams that can hit all four elements in Road Trip can bank on excellent performance outcomes.

The team that will survive these professional football games I mentioned above and end up winning the Super Bowl will have predictable qualities: good players who play very well together.

It’s a formula that any entrepreneur and aspiring start-up CEO should take to heart, and figure out how to make happen, either by hiring folks who can play those roles and/or getting effective, nimble outside help that can show you the way.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.