The Team’s Nothing Without a Leader

One of our coaches saw this Steve Jobs quote posted on LinkedIn and it prompted quite a discussion:

“A small team of A-plus players can run circles around a giant team of B or C players.”

As coaches we were very interested in the dynamics of this statement and so thought some analysis might help us understand the realities behind this.

  1. All other things being equal, a small team will always run circles around a larger team. Mass determines agility. The bigger you are, the harder it is to turn and as you have greater inertia, the slower you will accelerate. This is just physics and also one of the principles underlying the Agile movement
  2. What are we measuring when we say A, B and C? Is it domain skills or team-working skills? If it’s team-working skills, then I would agree but if it’s domain-skills, then that’s an entirely different matter. If we’re talking about domain skills, then teams of B players with good team-working skills have often beat groups of A players with poorer team-working skills. An oft-quoted example is Vince Lombardi, who took a bunch of part time players and won 5 NFL Championships and two SuperBowls with the Green Bay Packers in seven years.  He created a team from a bunch of individual losers and ran circles around everybody. Another example, closer to home, is that of Wimbledon FC (now Milton Keynes Dons) who, under manager Dave Bassett,  rose from the fourth division of the football league in 1982 to the first division in 1986 and in 1988 beat the then league champions, Liverpool, in the FA Cup final.

All in all, a small team will always beat a large team in endeavours that require agility and a disciplined team will probably always beat an undisciplined group of individuals.

What Mr Jobs, in his modesty, doesn’t state, though, is probably the largest determining factor in success – leadership.

A team without a leader is going nowhere and we doubt either the Green Bay Packers or Wimbledon FC would have been as successful without their leaders. Would Apple have been as successful without Mr Jobs? Why do you think they rehired him 1996 after firing him eleven year earlier?

In conclusion then, we think it’s very, very important to hire the right people but maybe you have them already and simply need to learn how to lead them?

Just as a random thought, you could try, “Building your projects around motivated individuals. Giving them the environment and support they need and trusting them to get the job done”

Just a thought :)