“Me Focused” Top Performers Don’t Always Build the Best Teams

Teams built around top performers who only look out for themselves under perform teams of average performers who are cohesive and look out for each other.

We’ve all heard or seen witty leadership sayings such as , “there’s no ‘I’ in the word “team”.  I am more convinced of the validity of this saying than ever before…and it’s rooted in social evidence.

Top Performers vs Average Performers

During a podcast on failure, Simon Sinek, author and speaker, relayed a story of when he was teaching graduate level courses. Sinek would give the students an assignment but would indicate, as often is the case with graduate level work, that it was a group assignment/a group competition…with a twist.

Sinek would be the one to create the groups, not the students.  But, he wouldn’t create these in a random way.  He was very intentional.  (Side note:  As I was listening to this podcast, my brain immediately went to creating “equal” groups of learners with varying degrees of knowledge.  Balance if you will.)

Sinek would always put the high-performing students in one group, then create other groups with the average students.

The average students ALWAYS won the competition.

Other Focused People Outperform Self Focused People on Teams

Here’s why.  The top students would only look out for themselves.  They were “me” focused.  Selfish.  Because of this, they were unable to operate effectively as a unit.  Whereby the average students were just the opposite.  They were picking each other up.  Helping one another.  Openly giving and receiving advice.

Weed Out Me Focused People

The podcast guest then relayed a story of their own about the military.  In short, during training exercises the military is trying to build strong, cohesive teams, weeding out those individuals who are “me” focused.  The leaders or instructors don’t weed the people out, the teams naturally do it themselves.

What observers noticed was that the team would organically ostricize the “edges” the team – those that were mentally or physically not strong  and those that were overly confident in themselves, ie. selfish.  Those people on these “edges” would be ignored and would eventually fall out of the team.

Sales Team Cohesion

When the crucial and most difficult exercises would happen during the training (after the people were naturally weeded out), something amazing would happen.  When one person fell behind, the team would make sure to pick them up.  It happened time and time again.  It’s how strong teams are formed. 

Think about how you are forming your teams.  A group of consistently average performers will often outperform and work better than if you try to have nothing but high-performers.

Leadership matters.

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About the author

Keith Lubner

Keith Lubner is Chief Strategy Officer at Sales Gravy and acts as an advisor,…

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