Is your business playing soccer, or basketball?

I recently attended an event The Future: Disrupted & Reimagined where Malcom Gladwell, journalist, best-selling author and speaker, explained that focusing on ‘superstars’ is no longer a winning strategy.

Using a sport analogy, Gladwell explained that sports fall into two categories; weak link or strong link. Weak link suggests that a team is only as good as its weakest players. Strong link suggests a team is only as good as its strongest players. Gladwell stated that when you want to improve the standing of a complex group or system you can either devote your attention to improving the weakest members in your chain or improving the strongest.

By way of example, Gladwell outlined how basketball is a strong link sport placing their emphasis on a few key or headline players who will capitalise on every opportunity to score, thus enhancing their value on the team. As a high scoring game, there are many more opportunities for one player to score the majority of points, thus ‘carrying’ the weakest players on the team. In contrast, Gladwell reviews a section of play in a professional Soccer game in which a goal is scored following a 48-step passing sequence that includes every team member on the field. With 11 players on the field, that play Is only as good as the weakest link; one player loses control and the advantage is lost.

Gladwell encourages us to reflect on how we manage our approach to organisational team development – do we focus on the strong few, increasing their participation and capacity as high potential performers? Or do we focus on the actions of all team members, noting that each interaction with a customer or client has the capacity to determine perception of the organisation.

This raises further questions. Does investing all the focus on the strong links make them more likely to stay with an organisation? Or is it likely to deflate other employees who feel they receive less attention and support? What if the time and monetary investment in those key performers was more widely distributed to encourage cohesion within your organisation? By making the weakest links in the team stronger, the entire team becomes stronger. If you want to build performance in your organisation, start by looking at the bottom performers. What percentage of the team do they make up? Can they be improved? Can they be mentored or coached?

Brad Pitt gave us the same idea to consider in the movie Moneyball – investing in the underdogs over costly superstars and building a team with internal strengths and cohesion. The strong link/weak link theory simply suggests that some situations could be changed or improved with the help of one person, while other situations need a continuous chain of help to reach their final goals.

As an important starting point, answer the question that every leader should ask themselves – do you play a weak or strong link game?  How you answer the former question will inform how you answer the following. What training are you offering for your team?

Weak-link programs are conducted outside standard organisation training. Such programs may include self-paced online training programs or single day courses to improve particular skills like excel or project management.

These programs are beneficial to an individual’s development and help build a resume but do not necessarily connect an employee with your organisation or team unless the time is made to do so. If you invest in training an employee in project management, ISACNT recommend you directly link that training to a project within your organisation to optimise on your investment. Therefore, it is not simply a training exercise that is attended and forgotten about.

Strong link programs are directly related to development within your organisation. For example, mentoring programs that help prepare the next crop of leaders, exposure to other parts of the business that allow employees to step beyond their current role and challenge their problem-solving skills. Often, these programs are offered to the high potential employees but not as a streamlined program available to everyone in the organisation. Allowing an employee to see a direction or the ‘bigger picture’ is a good way to motivate and retain staff. A weak link employee may not lack skills but could simply lack motivation or passion for their current position.

ISACNT believe the more organisations invest in the weakest link(s), the higher the team’s performance grows. In a rapidly developing workforce, organisations require skills for both individuals and teams to succeed. Building a cohesive, effective team creates a competitive advantage to any organisation. Make time during your employee’s next performance review to discuss how the future might look, find out what training your employee is interested in – it is important to ensure the process is collaborative.

At ISACNT our focus is on ensuring many people have the opportunity to develop their skills, rather than focusing on an elite few.

Contact us to find out what programs and training options we can recommend to develop your organisation’s expertise.