The Danger Of Building A Team In Your Own Image

I had a passion for sports as I grew up, and in particular, basketball. I was a point guard, and I loved the challenges that went along with playing that position.  Point guards have to be fast, eager to learn, and ready to lead. I found myself studying the other point guards of my day, like Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and for all of the Washington D.C. sports fans, Kevin Porter.  I tried to take a piece of each of their games, and although I never came close to even a whiff of their success, I wasn’t half bad.

Years later, I started coaching basketball, and ended up coaching many teams through the years. I’ll never forget my very first team, however.  I stood shoulder to shoulder with a dozen other coaches, and we watched over 100 kids, one-by-one, race up and down the court.  We were able to see exactly one jump shot, a lay-up, a dribble down the court ending with one more lay-up.  I feverishly took notes, and a few hours later drafted my first team, and felt pretty good about my picks… that is, until they showed up for our first practice.

It had been a week since that fast look at these players, and I was excited about seeing them all together in the gym. When the first player walked in, I was thrilled.  He was a little on the short side, but looked fast, eager to learn, and like most point guards, ready to lead.  In fact, he looked a lot like me when I was that age.  I had drafted a point guard, and I was feeling pretty good about my draft so far.  A minute later, player number two came in.  He was a little shorter than the first guy, he looked like he had the classic attributes of a point guard, and he reminded me of, uh, me.  I had myself another point guard, but every team can use two.  Each minute brought another player, and each player looked just like the other. Strangely enough, they all looked just like me when I was their age.  Inadvertently, I had drafted players in my own image.  

Needless to say, we were small, fast, and fought hard, but as you could probably guess, we struggled to compete with the bigger, more balanced teams.  I also found myself with a team of eight leaders, and no followers.  The season wasn’t exactly a disaster, but it wasn’t a success either.  I had no one to blame but myself; I had drafted this team and I just hadn’t realized what I had done. That team had sure looked good on paper.  

In basketball, it’s wonderful to have small, fast players, who aren’t afraid to lead, but basketball is a team sport.  To be successful, you need a balanced team; you need strong players, tall players, scrappy players, role players, and more.

Now, I know most of you may not be building a basketball team, but you may be building a team.  Take a moment, and think about how easy it would be to inadvertently look to hire team members who you connect with, who communicate in a way that is familiar to you, and who offer skills that look surprisingly similar to your own.  It might look good on paper, but what kind of team would that really be?   Great teams provide combinations of all sorts of skills.  For instance:

  • Extroverts like myself will certainly not be afraid to hear themselves talk, but introverts often need to sit back and process information more carefully before speaking.  Do you think that kind of balance might be valuable for your team?
  • Dominant people will instinctively cut through the clutter and get things moving, while analytical people often counter that with an instinct to measure the moves you are considering.  Do you think those kinds of counterbalances might be valuable for your team?

It may be instinctive to surround yourself with people who see things the same way you do, but that theory just doesn’t hold water. You want and need people who actually don’t see things the same way you do.  If you aren’t careful, you might just end up, in a sense, bringing in a team of point guards.

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