Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Great by Choice, famously said that an effective leader gets the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. (2011; 2001) Usually, this concept is only applied to the general hiring process in organizations, as HR departments and hiring managers make every effort to employ the right people in the company. However, I believe it is just as important to take it to a micro-level, and apply the same principles to the formation of your team. When it comes to your team, those principles are, quite simply: get the right people, and put the right people in the right place.
It begins by getting the right people on your team, and this happens in two ways. First, identify those people that need to be on your team, and get them on board. A good leader will learn to understand his personal strengths and abilities, as well as his own “gaps,” knowing that “without an awareness of your strengths, it’s almost impossible for you to lead effectively.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 10) He also needs to understand the strengths of those around him, especially where those strengths are different than his. With those pieces of information, an effective leader is intentional about identifying and placing people on his team that will provide a full range of strengths and abilities. Where leaders make a mistake is in choosing people without consideration of how they fit, when people are not “recruited to [the] executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 21)
The second piece of getting the right people on your team is to remove the wrong people from the team. These wrong fits to the team may be immediately evident, or may become apparent over time. “Effective executives know this and check up (six to nine months later) on the results of their people decisions. If they find that a decision has not had the desired results, they don’t conclude that the person has not performed. They conclude, instead, that they themselves made a mistake.” (Drucker, 2011, p. 30) When it becomes clear that someone is then not a good fit, it is time to take them off the team, but a truly outstanding leader will go one step further. Because he has learned and understood that team member and his or her strengths and weaknesses (at least, enough to know that they do not fit on the team), a great leader will not simply usher that person off the bus, but will help get him on the right bus. He will help that person move to the place where he best fits, whether that be within the organization, or perhaps even in some other organization.
With the right people on your team, the next step is to make sure that they are in the right place on the team, functioning according to the gifts they bring to the group. There are a variety of personality and strengths assessments (Myers-Briggs, DISC, StrengthsFinder, etc.), but the underlying premise of all of them as that there are different personality types and strengths (that makes sense, doesn’t it?). The application of this premise is that those different personality types and strengths will function best in different roles. Some may be better at analyzing and mapping, others at motivating, or administrating, or planning, or connecting, or any number of other skill sets. Part of the purpose of having a full range of strengths on the team is so that the leader can assign tasks and responsibilities based on those strengths, and so that, in turn, the team members are each operating at their highest capability, enjoyment, and fulfillment. Often, when it becomes evident that the team is not functioning well, it is because the leader “didn’t put the right people on the job.” (Drucker, 2011, p. 31)
The most successful – and, incidentally, the most enjoyable – teams on which I have participated have been those that have had a balanced combination of strengths and abilities; so much so, that when a team member left, I became very intentional about searching for a replacement that filled in the right gaps for those that remained. I have learned my strengths, and I know that I will do best when I can fully operate within those abilities; therefore I know I need to seek out people with abilities that will complement mine. When that happens, we perform well, we work together well, and we accomplish much.
Collins, J. (2011). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 115-136). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap–and others don’t. New York: Harper Business.
Drucker, P. F. (2011). What makes an Effective Executive HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 23-36). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.