Organizational challenges should always be attributed to the System, not the players
Whichever team sport we consider, there are certain aspects that are common among teams that are consistent top performers. There is a massive difference between winning on a consistent basis for multiple seasons and collecting trophies as opposed to winning a handful of entertaining matches that are celebrated by fans, but in aggregate the team produces only mid-tier results. What are the common traits of top-tier teams?
- They are capable of winning often even when their top players are injured or sitting out games
- Many players are positioned to excel or win any given game as opposed to only top 2 or 3 players
- The scoreboard does not heavily influence their style of play because they believe in their approach. i.e. their style is usually immune to shifts in momentum, or one or two poor games
- They don’t elaborately celebrate small wins or look for silver linings or excuses in losses
- Everyone knows their contribution, which allows the team to win together or lose together
What enables high performing teams to demonstrate these traits?
I call it a System. Simplistically, a team’s System is its modus operandi; every team member knows it, believes in it, and executes on it flawlessly.
From a business perspective, this translates into a cohesive approach to running the entire business that the senior executives, employees, board, analysts, regulators, partners, and even customers understand and believe in. The cohesiveness of the approach and effectiveness of its execution determines success or failure of the business.
The fact is individual players have to become somewhat commodities in a highly organized team for the team to succeed over a longer period of time. Above a critical threshold of skills and experience, the specific individuals are a lot less important in a team with a strong system.
However, many organizations fall into the trap of focusing too much on individuals. Organizations blame lack of talent or experience within its ranks for performance gaps. However, these gaps aren’t caused by individuals. These are caused by a poor system that allowed ineffective managers to hold senior positions, wrong senior executives to make hiring decisions, hiring practices to stay underdeveloped, training and coaching to be overlooked, etc.
Why is this an important part of the growth philosophy?
Pointing to individuals is very easy and provides an easy quick fix story for failures. Creating an effective system is much harder. Lack of an effective system implies fundamental issues that take time and meticulous effort to remedy
Unlike sporting situations where results are easily quantified and all interactions are recorded and replayed many times over, corporate scenarios involve opinions and a certain level of story-telling. This makes clarity on real events and reasons for failures nebulous. The existence (or lack) of a strong system can be nebulous to pinpoint based on who is speaking and to whom. Often, such information vacuum allows a bias to blame players while systems aren’t adequate.
So, as a fundamental going in position, always start with the presupposition that system inadequacies are always to blame for a company’s performance gaps. Even individual failures are enabled or tolerated due to gaps in the system.