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.


Equality Does Not Exist and That is How You Build a Great Team

When people talk about the need for equality, I laugh. (I was going to write that the only place people are equal is in the grave but even that is not true!) Equality does not exist. The only place where there should be equality is in the courts. Of course, that is a fiction. The person who can afford the most intelligent/talented (not necessarily the same thing) attorney usually wins. I assume that means that the only real equality is that everyone’s dollar bill is worth the same as everyone else’s. But then, the number of dollar bills in anyone’s pocket ends the discussion about financial equality.

I fully realize that equality, and the striving for that unachievable goal, is a popular talking point among many people. So there will always be people, in love with the sound of their own voices, screaming for equality. (For the record, I just want everyone to have a fair chance to achieve their goals.)

My response is, if everyone were equal then “equality” would be “average” and what type of goal is “average?” I have worked with many “average” people. For them, mediocrity was an achievement. It would be nice if we were all equal as far a opportunity was concerned, with everyone having the same chance as everyone else. It doesn’t exist. (Well, maybe in North Korea, but who wants to live there?)

I was thinking about this after I heard a commercial for Southern New Hampshire University. I like the one where the president says, “You were smart before the tassel turned.” (I actually used that line, giving him credit, in a speech I wrote.) I could not believe it when I heard him say, on a different commercial, “The world equally distributes talent but not opportunity.” (I waited until I heard it twice to make sure I had heard it correctly. Sadly, I had.)

Everyone, even intelligent people, are entitled to say something stupid. But this is a great example of the need for having a few layers of people who check, double-check, and triple-check something that is going to be published. I am certain that SNHU’s president is an intelligent man. I have no idea what he was trying to say, but talent is most definitely not distributed equally.

Some people say I am a talented writer. Some people say I am a talented recruiter. Some people say I am a talented career counselor. Some people say I am a talented speaker. Some people say I am an idiot. Some people say I am a babbling fool. I’ll tell you one thing for certain: I can’t do math. I can’t explain quantum mechanics. I can’t sing. I can’t draw. I can’t play a musical instrument. My IT talents are very limited. And if you want to lose all your savings, come to me for advice on financial planning. We are all talented in some spheres and wonting in others.

Equality is a fiction. And the sooner you acknowledge and accept that the better off you will be. You are not equally as talented as everyone else. You have to determine where you strengths, your talents, lie and build on them. That is how you will become a successful professional.

For the record, finding people who are talented in different realms is how you build a successful team. Yes, they should be equally talented at what they do. Employers should always strive to hire the best. So if that is what the president of SNHU wanted to say, he spoke poorly not foolishly.

The only way you can have equality is if you embrace the lowest common denominator. That means you will achieve nothing but failure. Equality of opportunity is a goal. Again, everyone should have a fair chance. But, in the real world, that is a dream that will never totally be realized because we are not all equally talented. It would be nice if we were but we are not.