Monday, January 11, 2010

No more stars?

I've read a couple of thoughtful and thought-provoking posts lately on how teams may perform better without stars, including this one at The HR Capitalist.

First of all, let me say that I have personal experience with teams that have one 'go to' person, which depending on the topic can either be frustrating or kind of nice.* When the go to person moves on, the team shakes out into a new constellation, sometimes a better, more open one with new stars, sometimes a sad, disfunctional one.

*Obviously for fun and prestigious topics we all want to be the go to person, whereas for mind-numbingly boring and obscure topics we're grateful if some sucker's willing to cover the bases.

This being said, I'm not sure I buy into the idea that a good team doesn't need any stars. I played varsity volleyball in high school and no, I was not the star player. The star player was Caroline, who could jump four feet in the air and spike the ball at some poor girl on the other side of the net.

Our job was to get the ball to Caroline and I was totally on board with that because it was a winning strategy.

Caroline may have been the star but she couldn't have done it without the rest of us. For example, Kimmy would dive for the impossible shot. Laurie had nerves of steel and a talent for knowing when the ball was going out of bounds, even on close calls. Heather was known for her 'spikable' sets. I myself had a sizzling and fairly reliable serve, which was duly capitalized on in the overall game plan.

But Caroline won the games for us because no one could return the ball to her once she spiked it down their throat.

There's an unsettling short story by Kurt Vonnegut called Harrison Bergeron in which all people are forced to be equal - if anyone is found to be better than anyone else they are handicapped with loud sounds ringing in their heads or chains to weigh them down. Thomas L. Friedman also laments the loss of excellence and diversity that comes with standardization in his early masterpiece The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

My point is that you shouldn't rush out and get rid of your stars so that others can shine. . . or clip their wings so they can't perform better than anyone else. What you should do is figure out what people are good at and want to be good at and work that into your game plan.

It's not a star problem, it's a management problem.


  1. Well said.

    If your into SciFi Fantasy novels, another longer story (11 novels) related to the same theme is the Sword of Truth" series by Terry Goodkind.

  2. Well put and totally on the mark, in my experience!


  3. Great post, I was one of the Go To people at my last job, and I left because of management shortcomings.

  4. This is me standing up clapping about this blog post. Bravo!


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