Importance of a Core High Performance Team

Recently, I read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography at the same time I was in the midst of focusing on how important a core of high performance team members is to the success of an organization.

Looking back over my own results, I can assure you that a high performance team will outperform an average team.  But how many high performance players do you need to form a nucleus?  My belief is you must have a high performance leader, and that person must have at least 3, hopefully more, high performance direct reports.  Of course it depends on the size of the organization, but if you look at a team, and don’t see at least 3 – 5 extraordinary people reporting to an extraordinary leader, your results will suffer, and you’ve got work to do.  A strong leader simply cannot do it alone – no matter how good.  In Iacocca’s book, he says:

“The key to success is not information, it’s people.  And the kinds of people I look for to fill top management spots are the eager beavers.  These are the guys who try to do more than they’re expected to.  They’re always reaching.  And reaching out to the people they work with, trying to help them do their jobs better.  That’s the way they’re built…So I try to look for people with that drive.  You don’t need many.  With twenty five of these guys, I could run the government of the United States.  At Chrysler I had about a dozen.”

You may be thinking that the management principles of a guy who helped bring out the Ford Mustang in 1962 might not be all the applicable today.  You would be wrong. Fast forward to the fall of 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in nearly 100 years.  Theo Epstein, the GM who also helped elevate the long-time losing Boston Red Sox to baseball’s summit, has said that a core part of his Cubs rebuild plan from inception was to build the team around four core everyday position players.  They didn’t know who those players would be when they started – but they knew they needed a nucleus of more than two or three to be successful.  This core they believed would carry the torch and lead the rest.  Today, in Chicago these pillars are well known (Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, and Russell) and the plan seems to have worked out ok.

So this may seem like a trite insight.  Isn’t it obvious?  Well, perhaps that’s true.  But the challenge is to force yourself to ensure they are there and that you aren’t just “settling” or “hoping.”  It’s so easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that a certain team member or two are “good enough” or “have the potential to be high performers.”  If you allow yourself to get lulled into this false belief, the team will be average at best, and if you expect exceptional results, they simply won’t come.

My next post will focus on another important aspect of that team as viewed through the eyes of Iacocca and Epstein – character.