Think about your organization as an ensemble, not a team.
We’ve all heard the old saying that your team is only as strong as your weakest member. Improvisational comedy changes that and says you’re only as strong as your ability to compensate for your weakest member. And let’s face it, at some point, each of us is going to be that weakest member and we want to know that the rest of the ensemble has our back.
Not Just the Best People
As you’re adding to your staff, it’s common to hear that you should hire the best people you possibly can. And that’s true, but there’s nuance to it.
Let’s look at the Chicago Bulls basketball team. Michael Jordan joined the team in the 1984-85 season and led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals on his way to being named NBA Rookie of the Year. But his superstar individual performance wasn’t enough as the Bulls lost in the first round of the playoffs.
In fact, it wasn’t until Jordan’s seventh year with the Bulls that the team won the first of its six NBA championship titles with Jordan.
What was the difference between Jordan the superstar for the first six years and Jordan the NBA champion for six out of the next eight years? One major key is that the Bulls became an ensemble.
With the addition of players like Dennis Rodman (rebounding and defense), Scottie Pippen, (scoring and defense), John Paxson and Steve Kerr (outside shooting), and others, the Bulls became a multiple-threat ensemble that no longer relied solely on Jordan to carry the heavy load.
Of course, coach Phil Jackson and his triangle offense helped too. This offensive scheme focused on maximum ball and player movement and reduced the need to always get the ball in Jordan’s hands.
With an offensive scheme in place (the triangle), and highly talented role players sharing the work, the Bulls became almost unstoppable. Even if one player had an off game, the rest of the team “had their back.”
Pick Up the Slack
Kelly Leonard, a longtime executive at improvisational comedy club The Second City, produced hundreds of original shows with talent such as Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Keegan Michael Key, Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. On my latest Actionable Intelligence podcast for Barron’s Advisor, Kelly told me that The Second City operates as an ensemble. Here’s Kelly:
“Look at the history of The Second City. We train up these young talent that no one knows their names and then they leave and they become famous. And we’re still here. So, you would think like, what are you doing? Why are you letting Tina Fey leave? Why are you letting Stephen Colbert leave?
“It’s because I’m making space for the next Tina Fey and the next Stephen Colbert–the ensemble is more powerful than the individual. The ensemble is guided by the idea of making your partner look good. That all of us are better than one of us. And when you have a skilled person enter into that space and allow them to contribute in a positive way, they are going to skill up there. They are made stronger by the people who are around them. I often say what’s interesting about Second City is, we are a theater that is guided by this ensemble philosophy and all we do is produce individual stars.”
What I pulled out of Kelly’s comment is when you operate as an ensemble, the departure of a “star” won’t derail your company. A new person comes in and the ensemble picks up any slack that develops until the new person can “pull their weight” on a regular basis.
Ultimately, you do want to hire the best people you can find. But the nuance is, they need to function well within an ensemble. Spotlight-hoggers, egomaniacs, and prima donnas should be avoided even if they are “superstars.” Those types of people might help you in the short term, but they’ll cause you long-term pain.
To listen to my full conversation with Kelly Leonard, click here.