When Building a Team, it’s Not Seats on a Bus it’s Cells of an Organism

Jim Collins, in his classic Good to Great, advises when building a team to first get the right people on the bus, then get the wrong people off the bus and, finally, make sure the right people are sitting in the correct seats. It’s a great visual that even the most inept team builder should be able to understand. And now I propose throwing it away and going back a century, to Sigmund Freud’s 1920 essay, Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Freud wrote, “One cell helps to preserve the life of the others, and the cell-community can go on living even if single cells have to perish. We have already heard that also conjugation, the temporary mingling of two unicellular entities, has a preservative and rejuvenating effect on both.”

The beauty of Collins’ metaphor is it’s simplicity: When building a team you have to hire the right people for the right job. The problem is, you are not just building a team, you are building a company and a company should be viewed in the Freudian sense of building an organism. An organism is living, breathing and evolving. So too should be your business. A bus is static; it never changes. Not good for your business!

So, instead of thinking that you are filling seats on a bus, perhaps it would be better to think in terms of connecting cells to form an organism that will survive for decades and not decay by rust over decades.

Let’s parse Freud:

One cell helps to preserve the life of the others… When hiring you cannot just think of the hard-skills the person has, their ability to do the job, but also their soft-skills, their ability to help others. Just as one cell helps to preserve the life of others, one employee helps to preserve the careers of others. And by so doing, the company is strengthened and survives. That said,

and the cell-community can go on living even if single cells have to perish. So, if someone has to be fired, resigns or for any reason leaves, the company is strong enough that their loss will not be seriously detrimental to it. Like Freud’s “cell-community,” it will “go on living.”

Many companies rightly take out life insurance policies on their most important employees. If it’s their salesperson who brings in the majority of their business, the policy will give them some breathing room until they find a replacement. But if the person is not a revenue generator, it won’t help all that much. Money can replace money, it cannot replace skills or knowledge. Which brings us to…

We have already heard that also conjugation, the temporary mingling of two unicellular entities, has a preservative and rejuvenating effect on both. So, it all comes down to hiring people who can work together for the common good, which, for present purposes, we can define as preserving and rejuvenating peers. Which means that not only do employees have to work together, they have to be preserved and rejuvenated meaning that the employer has to care for their professional development, keep them motivated and challenged. If not, the organism dies which, in business terms, means selling before you want to, shutting down, or filing for bankruptcy.

So hire to build a living organism, not to fill seats on a bus.