great teams beat great lebrons

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People often ask me which sport I played in high school—basketball or volleyball? Being six-foot five, I often disappoint people by telling them that I didn’t play either. Growing up, I was always more interested in other things, like music or writing, or, well, girls. I guess I just didn’t see the appeal of throwing a leather ball through a metal ring over and over again. To me, nothing beat the camaraderie of a band with a couple of young goonies.

Years ago, a friend invited me to go with him to the Utah Jazz Cleveland Cavaliers game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. I was excited because it was my first time seeing LeBron James play live and I knew, that in all likelihood, I’d probably never see him play again. Much to my chagrin, it was not much of a game. The Utah Jazz, lackluster in any “big” names at the time, worked the Cavaliers over from one side of the floor to the other. It wasn’t even close.

As I watched, I found myself counting the number of passes each team made during their possessions. While I didn’t keep tally, I did notice a huge imbalance between the two teams. I’d say the average possession for the Jazz had around five to six passes, while the Cavaliers averaged around one to two passes, and sometimes none at all.

What struck me was the fact that despite Cleveland having some of the best players in the game, they lost to the Jazz because they failed to play as a team.

Forgive me for throwing in yet another sports analogy into the already over-saturated body of analogies surrounding the business world, but being the non-sports guy, I think I deserve a pass on this one (no pun intended). Hiring a new employee can be one of the most stressful things an employer has to do. It is a decision great in size that directly affects the success and culture of an organization. A talented team will always beat great individuals. When it comes to hiring a team player, here are my three suggestions on characteristics to look for:

  1. Find the young at heart— I believe being young has nothing to do with your age, but rather your spirit. When you’re young, you’re hungry. You’re fearless. You’re teachable. Every company wants to hang their future on the coattails of a rising star—not the plateaued know-it-all. Like the song says, ‘May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung. May you stay forever young.’
  2. Find the near-greats— When asked about their success as a performing arts company, Cirque du Soleil said that they usually didn’t try to hire the greats. Instead, they go after the near-greats—the gymnasts who just missed the Olympics. People with a chip on their shoulder. More often than not, people who have fallen just short of fame and glory, already have a fire within them. It’s just a matter of properly feeding that fire. Search for the fighters—those who have learned from failures, have problem-solved and are eager to grow.
  3. Find the humble— In my experience, nothing is more devastating to good teamwork than big ego. I see it in sports. I see in businesses. I see it in government, family, education…you name it. I’ve even seen it in community service. Great ideas may arise from anyone and anywhere…not just the louder of a crowd.
    Ego-centric employees who dominate teams are not the kind of people you want. The betterment of the team must be top priority of every employee. Certainly, there will be individuals with more voice than others, but if there’s anything I’ve learned working in a creative industry, it is this: the only thing more important than knowing when you have the best idea is knowing when you don’t.

Inspired by a coffee mug quote I recently stumbled upon: Work Hard. Stay Humble. We are often so focused on ourselves, we forget the contributions of the team around us. The team we’re part of. Hire those with a team like spirit and a “we”-mentality. Your roster will be much more in sync.

By tim brown
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