For anyone who follows NBA basketball, there's a war going on right now.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, it's exactly the same scenario.
The Golden State Warriors are loaded to the gills with superstars like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, but they play like a well-oiled machine. James Harden, meanwhile, is one of the most talented players we've seen in years and a likely league MVP--his dribbling and shooting prowess makes you do a double-take. Yet, it's hard to ignore the fact that everyone else on the Houston Rockets (except Chris Paul) is often on the court standing around, waiting to see what happens. Four teams, but two completely different strategies. We'll soon find out which strategy will prevail in the next few days.
The war raging between "team" and "superstar" has been around awhile. In business, you might be tempted to rely on a small group of overachievers. Yet, nothing quite compares to a larger group of people all working together in perfect synergy.
I was watching the Cavaliers the other night and realized the "old school" approach of driving the lane, passing the ball to the superstar on almost every play, and hoping that one person scoring 42 points is a good strategy matches up perfectly with how some leaders operate in business. "Give the ball to the superstar" is a common tactic.
It doesn't really work, and part of the reason has to do with how teams function. In my own experience, individuals who can ramp up sales quickly are like a meme or a viral marketing video. It's a big hit, but it doesn't really lead to long-term success. I agree James is one of the best ever, but you could easily argue that one-guy-driving-the-lane has not worked. It has not helped the Cavs win an NBA Championship. Only when James surrounds himself with exemplary players, not pawns in a chess match, does he usually win the final series.
It won't help your prospects as a leader, either. Teams in business who work together are far stronger, far more productive, and find far more success than a couple of greats.
Here's an example of what I mean.
In one startup, I remember hiring someone who had exceptional graphic design skills. She could make Photoshop dance. And, she could crank out brochures and other items faster than anyone else. At meetings, she was always a little bored. But the other team members were also hungry to learn. Over an entire year, the other team members eventually learned how to use the design apps, shared ideas with each other, found workarounds, and built up their repertoire. In meetings, they would come up with far better ideas as a group. That one superstar was wildly talented, but had to rely on her own prowess.
Eventually, we ended up switching her to a different department, one that needed a solo producer. The rest of the team flourished, grew creatively, and became way more productive. There's something about how a team of, say, five people working together creates more productivity than five individuals working alone. Each person fuels the entire team, generates new ideas, and pushes every project forward.
Watching the Cavs lately reminds me of that designer. Just give the ball to LeBron is not a great strategy against teams like the Boston Celtics. It becomes one against five. We'll see how it all works out, but I'll still hold to my view. Teams win in the end.