Take That – Teams vs. Individual Talent

HR Lessons from Take That

Introducing Chris Glennie, publisher and marketer, who stumbled over Take That (unwillingly ! :-) ) at a concert at Wembley Stadium and found himself contemplating the business issues associated with what the HR profession call ‘teamwork and talent management’ – I’ll let Chris take up the story, but not before we have seen the group in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KII1ruAfvsg

Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts, or does individual talent trump the creativity and productivity of a team?  That is the question.  It is also the nub of a debate that recently raged on the Harvard Business Review blog.

In the blue corner is William Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine, taking issue with a comment of Mark Zuckerberg’s that ‘Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good … they are a hundred times better.’

In the red corner is Jeff Stibel, chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., putting the opposite case.  His argument rests on the assertion that ‘great individuals are not only more valuable than legions of mediocrity, they are often more valuable than groups that include great individuals.’

Chris tells me that he is instinctively in the blue corner, through prejudice, education and experience.  But his life was changed when he went to see Take That at Wembley Stadium. As the evening progressed, he was struck by how this particular event perfectly encapsulated both sides of the HBR argument:

“Take That’s performance opened with the four members of the original five who re- formed a few years back: Gary, Jason, Howard and Mark.  They’re good, really good.  They don’t exactly dance anymore, not like they used to, but they move together well, interact, play off each other.  And I thought: Well, that’s about as good as it gets, isn’t it?”

“But then, the four disappeared and the manic, charismatic and frankly already too-sweaty figure of Robbie Williams appeared on stage.  The crowd went wild.  It’s what they all came for, and Williams did not disappoint. Let him entertain us – yes, we did and I couldn’t help thinking that it had a level of energy, excitement, engagement that made it much better than what came before.  It was worth the money on its own.  I was left thinking that what was inevitably coming – all five back on stage – would be a disappointment.”

“But it wasn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, at times Robbie Williams threatened to break ranks, and when he did the cohesion nearly broke down, but by and large he worked as one of the team, and the whole event just soared beyond my expectations as an agnostic Take That consumer.”

I too as the editor of this blog would probably not go willingly to see Take That due to misplaced predjudices about boy bands but I can appreciate their talent and Chris’s story.  It reminds me of a quote from Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, who said that when you play with good people, it raises your own performance.  This concurs with Chris’ experience, Check back to the post on Deep Purple to see great people making each other greater.  The same is true of Led Zeppelin and Prince, who is renowned as a great musical mentor who improves other people’s performances when they work with him.  I’m in the camp that says if you want to get better, work with great people AND have the humility and suss to play in the team rather than as a soloist when required.

So, what are the ‘Takeways’ from Take That?

Take That on teamwork

Individual star talents are as valuable as a cohesive team.  When it works, the result can far exceed the separate component parts working alone.

Take That on professionalism

A true professional knows how to play in a team and be an individual solo performer.   True professionals are emotionally literate.  They know when to push forward and when to hold back and so on.

Take That on talent management

The job of a manager is to harness precocious talents so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There’s no doubt that a star talent can be a challenge to integrate into a team, and others have to work hard on teamwork with such people around.  The manager’s job is to bring these elements into harmony.

For more like this read the book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:

About the guest on this blog:  After a 20 year career in educational publishing working for blue chip companies and SMEs, Chris Glennie now thinks and writes about the leadership lessons he has learnt along the way. He can be contacted on twitter via @chrisglennie, or via his blog.