If you’ve ever worked in a company with a great culture, you’ve likely heard the phrase “our greatest asset walks out the door every night.” Legendary companies like Google and Goldman Sachs are famous for saying that success is all about people. Entire industries have sprung up to help managers find and hire top talent. Gathering great talent, it seems, is a sure bet for tremendous breakthroughs.
But is success really that simple? Hire the best people and you’ve got a successful team? As an entrepreneur, I have started to question this assumption. There are many examples of incredible groups of people that fail to achieve greatness. When we look at the largest software company in the world (I won’t name names) that pays top dollar for talent but creates sub-par products or the small start-up of all-stars that can’t launch a website — we learn that a “hire great people” strategy isn’t enough.
When groups of all-stars fall short, they tend to blame the quality of the idea or the market conditions. I would like to propose an alternative explanation: Chemistry. A team’s chemistry is composed of factors such as shared respect, feedback exchange, complementary skills, and a common set of tenets. You can have the greatest, most brilliant people working together, but if the chemistry is not right such a well-bred team may prove worthless.
The leadership skills required to hire great people are quite different from the capacity to develop chemistry. Leaders that I have interviewed for my upcoming book explain that good chemistry requires introspection. Team members must constantly fine-tune their working relationships, and every discomfort and ambiguity must be used as an opportunity to strengthen the whole.
The argument can be made that you should focus more on developing the people you have rather than on attracting and hiring great people. As you focus on your team’s chemistry, consider the following 4 tips.
1. Take your team’s temperature. When a problem is brewing, our tendency is to block it out. But an "infection" left untreated can become a full-blown disaster. Use methods to detect and address concerns before they evolve into problems.
2. Focus on results, not time. Morale suffers when the rules fail to support the ultimate goal: a productive, creative workplace. Rather than focusing on rigid working hours, promote a chemistry that is not about face-time.
3. Fight your way to breakthroughs. Many creative teams believe that their greatest mistakes are made when nobody argues. Promote a chemistry that is comfortable with conflict.
4. Leaders should talk last. Promote a team atmosphere where even the most junior people feel comfortable sharing their opinions. Oftentimes a leader can strengthen a team’s chemistry just by talking less.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Scott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.