Good people are bad for organisations

Good people are bad for organisations

I’ve never been much of a sports fan. I’ve enjoyed going to games, and even followed a football team on a few European trips. But if I’m honest, my enthusiasm has always been more for the beer than the game itself.

As a result, I don’t use that many sporting metaphors in my work and those that I do are probably lifted from elsewhere. So forgive me for any cliches in the following post.

As in sport, so in business…

Four things you notice about football teams, even if you don’t watch that much football.

  1. Truly great players can make things happen, even in the most unlikely scenarios
  2. If there’s one player in the team who is very significantly better than the rest, all the others look to them to win the day
  3. A well-organised team of average players will perform more consistently than a badly organised team with a few superstars
  4. Superstars tend to leave

I’ve spent the past week in an institution that is relying on the hard work and good will of a couple of superstars. Only their efforts are keeping it running.

These superstars operate in a sclerotic, chaotic environment. They are the people their co-workers turn to in order to answer questions. Without them, the system would fall apart.

At some point, they are going to leave.

For these superstars, it won’t be a multi-million pound transfer that takes them away. But it will be a better offer elsewhere: more money, less stress. Perhaps retirement. Either way, it will probably take the organisation a whole ‘season’ to recover from their departure.

Systems create freedom

When I work with organisations I preach investment in good systems. This is often seen as being at the expense of the freedom and creativity of the people. “We’re not robots,” I hear. But what people don’t see is that the systems create freedom, they don’t destroy it.

The great football teams are not ones that are arbitrary collections of great players. They are well-drilled players within a system. If that system is properly designed, the superstars can shine within it — in fact they have a greater opportunity to shine because they aren’t picking up slack elsewhere on the pitch.

Learning from the pitch

Great organisations are the same. Everyone wants superstars in their organisation. But the risk is that they become a substitute for good systems. When that happens the organisation becomes inefficient and brittle. Because — through sheer force of will — superstars keep things ticking over, weakness elsewhere is covered up.

Look beyond the superstars in your organisation. How would you function if they were removed? What would fail? If you fix those problems now, you’ll free your superstars to deliver much greater results.

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Future of Business series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Business page.

Tom Cheesewright

Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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