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How to use Moneyball at the office to build great teams
Here's how to find diamonds in the rough
 
Follow Beane's gameplan.
Follow Beane's gameplan. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

There are a lot of myths about team building.

For instance: People are not a company's most valuable asset.

The right people are.

This is one of the key things Jim Collins explains in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don't, his exhaustive study of great teams and leaders.

He holds Nucor up as a prime example of perfect team building. These guys were so devoted they chased lazy employees out of the factory.

The Nucor system did not aim to turn lazy people into hard workers, but to create an environment where hardworking people would thrive and lazy workers would either jump or get thrown right off the bus. In one extreme case, workers chased a lazy teammate right out of the plant with an angle iron. [Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don't]

And the best people are worth it.

Yes, they're that much better. There are Michael Jordans in every industry.

There are enormous and well-documented differences between the best and worst performers in numerous endeavors. Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, who has spent his career studying greatness and genius, concludes: "No matter where you look, the same story can be told, with only minor adjustments. Identify the 10 percent who have contributed the most to some endeavor, whether it be songs, poems, paintings, patents, articles, legislation, battles, films, designs, or anything else. Count all the accomplishments that they have to their credit. Now tally the achievements of the remaining 90 percent who struggled in the same area of achievement. The first tally will equal or surpass the second tally. Period." [Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management]

Office workers are no different.

…superior workers in jobs requiring low skill produced 19 percent more than average workers, superior workers in jobs requiring high skill were 32 percent more productive, and for professionals and managers, superior performance produced 48 percent more output than average performers. [Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management]

And the above is probably just worthless and depressing information to almost everyone reading this.

You know why?

Most people don't work with the top 2 percent

You're probably shocked some of your co-workers can dress themselves and find the door out of the house in the morning.

With good reason. A lot of people are just plain dumb.

In an article reporting the declining position of the United States in world trade in telecommunications equipment, the New York Telephone company reported that "it tested 57,000 job applicants in 1987 and found 54,900, or 96.3 percent, lacked basic skills in math, reading, and reasoning." A human resource planning document prepared at the Bank of America in 1990 reported that "Chemical Bank in New York must interview 40 applicants to find one who can be successfully trained as a teller"; "at Pacific Bell in Los Angeles, 95 percent of the 3,500 people who recently took a competency test for entry-level jobs not requiring a high school education failed"; and "at Motorola, 80 percent of its applicants cannot pass a simple seventh grade English comprehension or 5th grade math test. At Bell South in Atlanta, fewer than one in 10 applicants meet all qualification standards." [Competitive Advantage Through People: Unleashing the Power of the Work Force]

This is why team building can be a nightmare and most advice is useless: Everyone says "get the best" and that's rarely an option.

What is a far more realistic approach?

How do you find diamonds in the rough?

How can you do Moneyball in the average workplace and find the undervalued players who already surround you?

Look for the round peg in the square hole

Research shows we give too much weight to individual personality and efforts and too little to context.

Put an A player in an impossible role and PRESTO! — watch them become indistinguishable from a C player.

This is what the investigative commission realized after the Columbia space shuttle tragedy — NASA was so badly organized that it made good employees into poor performers.

…the Columbia Accident Investigation board was dismayed to see that, although most of the people had been changed, the same system produced the same mistakes 17 years earlier — it was a system that made it difficult for smart people to do smart things. [Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management]

Look for the obviously bright people who are struggling in spots where they're all but set up to fail.

When you're team building, those are the people you want to steal.

This is how Brad Bird made the Pixar film The Incredibles. He targeted the brilliant but floundering.

In an interview with McKinsey Quarterly he said:

I said, "Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody's listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door." A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

And with that he made a great movie and helped keep innovation alive at Pixar.

He makes ten times as many errors? PERFECT!

You might want to consider that employee who makes 10 times as many errors.

Seriously.

Teams that reported 10 times the number of errors had the best leadership and best coworker relationships:

In the mid-1990s, Harvard Business School's Amy Edmundson, and the Harvard physicians funding her research, were flabbergasted when nurse questionnaires showed that the units with best leadership and best coworker relationships reported making 10 times more errors than the worst. [Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management]

Huh?

Everybody makes errors. These teams actually reported them all. So they learned. And got better. And trusted each other.

The real danger was the people who were sweeping errors under the rug — but those are the people who got the best reviews from bosses.

Edmondson and colleague Anita Tucker concluded that those nurses whom doctors and administrators saw as most talented unwittingly caused the same mistakes to happen over and over. These "ideal" nurses quietly adjust to inadequate materials without complaint, silently correct others' mistakes without confronting error-makers, create the impression that they never fail, and find ways to quietly do the job without questioning flawed practices. These nurses get sterling evaluations, but their silence and ability to disguise and work around problems undermine organizational learning. [Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management]

We rarely get the obvious A players.

But the true A players are not always obvious.

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