The Varsity Team

Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union, once wrote: “The production of wealth is not the work of any one man, and the acquisition of great fortunes is not possible without the co-operation of multitudes of men.”

I’ve observed the truth to this statement many times in the past eight months. Everything that matters is about people. Regardless of your activities and goals, the most important issues for any organization are always related to the people we work and interact with, or seek to attract. The easiest example to relate to is a varsity sports team.

As the coach of a varsity team your job is to recruit and develop the best talent that’s available. This involves identifying the best people for the critical positions and helping your people become even better.

Recruiting the absolute best people in terms of talent and personality for each position is the first step to competing with the best, and ultimately winning against the best. My good friend Paul Dejoe recently commented the following on Quora:

Your job is to create a vision, a culture, to get the right people on the bus and to inspire.  When you look around at a team that believes in the vision as much as you do and trusts you will do the right thing all the time, it’s a feeling that can’t be explained.  The exponential productivity from great people will always amaze you.  It’s why finding the right team is the most difficult thing you will do but the most important.  This learning will affect your life significantly.  You will not settle for things anymore because you will see what is possible when you hold out for the best and push to find people that are the best.  You don’t have a problem anymore being honest with people about not cutting it.

I know this may sound cliche but all cliche’s hold some truth. It’s absolutely fascinating to work with a small team of people when each team member is doing what they do best.

Going back to high school rowing, I remember that our coach had one top goal in mind: Prepare the fastest possible boat for race day. For my team this involved determining who was the best stroke seat, the best stroke pair, the best bow pair, and the best coxswain. Each position is unique and each individual rower committed to being the best at their respective position. When we all did our job individually better than anyone else, the sum of our collective efforts was a really fast boat.

An entrepreneur must follow a very similar pattern. My greatest challenge will always be finding the absolute very best programmers, web designers, and any other position critical to my success against competition. And you see it over and over again. Schools, law-enforcement agencies, movie sets, museums, musical concerts, and virtually all other organizations all seek to attract the very best people who can contribute to their collective success.

Steve Jobs simply named these people the “A players” and commented on the risks of not holing out for them:

It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players.  The Microsoft experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.  –Jobs

The general test for evaluating an A player is to ask yourself the question: Would I fight hard to keep this person on board? If not, then you should certainly pass. Always hold out for the A players on your team.

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John Marbach

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09 2012