The Art of Building a Perfect Team

A newer sports/coaches book is out and it’s from the NFL coaching guru Bill Belichick called – War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and Art of Building The Perfect Team.  I’m not a huge fan of the New England Patriots or Bill Belichick, but he definitely has created a winning organization over an extended period of time so I was really interested to see what his philosophy was to sustain such a high level or a long period of time.  While the book itself is fairly what you’d expect from a coaching type book – i.e., hire the right people, focus on details, etc., one thing caught me off guard and has extended application to HR and how we build teams in our organizations.

One philosophy Belichick has is that you measure all people, for the position they have by the same matrix.  Sounds basic and straightforward –  right?  But it isn’t – it’s not what we do in HR – we “tweak” it.  Here’s an example – let’s say you have 3 customer service reps, all in the same position, same job description, same pay grade.  Customer Service Rep #1 is a newbie, fresh out of school, no real world work experience. Customer Service Rep #2 is a solid performer with 5 years in position, a rock.  Customer Service Rep #3 is your senior level rep – in position for 15 years, definitely knows the history of where the department has been over the past 15 years, your her 4th supervisor.  You are in position for one year and you’ve been asked by leadership to give a performance assessment of your team of 3 – ranking them 1 to 5 – 5 being the best.  Each rank is independent of the other.

You have high standards and while all are good performers, none of them are great.  Rep #1 (newbie) you give a “3” – for being new in position they are coming up to speed nicely especially being only on for a short period of time.  Rep #2 also gets a “3” – the person is a rock, but to move to the next level they really need to start showing more imitative and informal leadership ability.  Rep #3 also gets a “3” for someone who has been on for so long – they should be far an away the top performer, but they are not – yes, they are better than the majority of Reps across the company in other departments, but you expect more from someone with such tenure.

Sounds familiar – doesn’t it?  Even though all 3 do the same position – we measure them differently based on our expectations of what we think they should bring to the table.  You’ve been told you have to cut two of the individuals from your team – who do you cut.  The majority of HR folks would cut #1 and #2- less seniority, less experience – it’s safe.  Who would Belichick cut?

This is the heart of his philosophy on building a great team – he cuts #1 and #3. Why?  #1 is easy – not enough performance and experience. #3 has been given the opportunity, shown what he can do and has based on performance has shown his “ceiling” for what you can expect.  #2 has similar performance to #3, costs less money, and hasn’t shown that she has reached her ceiling performance level.  If you do this consistently over time with linebackers, defensive backs, offensive lineman, etc. – what you get is great value-to-talent ratio.

So, do you think your organization really measures everyone by position, equally?  Could you build your organization around a Belichick model?  Would your organization be better or worse for it?  All good questions – I tend to think organizations fear really measuring performance because they fear they will always cut the more tenure workers – which isn’t true, but in HR we don’t like all that risk – so we shy away from truly building our teams based on performance.  How many people who went through layoffs over the past 3-4 years really kept their best talent? Not enough, I can tell you that.



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