Which team member should get most of your managerial attention – the weakest or the strongest?

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I was reading an article from the Harvard Business Review Blog yesterday called: “Four Ways to Improve Your Team’s Performance “. As it names suggests, the article deals with ways to improve team performance. The “Four Ways” are derived from the suggestions of Tom Donnelly, the men’s track and field coach for the past 34 years at Haverford College. Now, I am the last guy who can say anything against using sports to describe important concepts in other disciplines or life in general, but in my opinion, at least one of the suggested ways is not applicable in both worlds.

The first tip the article tries to import from the track field to business teamwork is setting is:

Spend as much time with the slowest runner as with the fastest. To improve a team’s performance, focus on its weakest members. As long as a team member is working hard, he or she deserves your attentive, careful coaching.

Now, this sentence has two parts and it is important to take both of them in consideration when dealing with teamwork. I kind of agree with the last part of the sentence.  If somebody is trying hard, he should be acknowledged. But, we should be careful. If somebody is trying hard and he is still weak, this might be a sign that he is not talented for that role. Now, this is one place where the difference between teamwork in a business setting and teamwork in a college comes to into play. In a college, I guess, part of the job of a coach is to get everybody to participate and to encourage the cohesiveness of the team’s spirit. In a business setting, the role of a manager is to help each team member find the best ways to make the most of his talents in order to improve the overall team performance and use of the team members’ comparative advantages. And that means, letting people who are not good at what they do go (or moving them to a different role).

The first part of the sentence is even more interesting. On one hand I like it. Because in contrast to the conventional wisdom, it does not say – spend most of the time with the weakest members, but says to spend equal time. But the middle sentence says the opposite that is, focus on the weakest link. Maybe this is true for the track team, but I actually believe that a manager should spend more of his time with his best people. Now this is surprising. They are doing fine – why do they need the managers time? Exactly because they are doing fine. The manager’s role is to help them do great. Help them to excel. Help them make the most out of themselves. Doing fine is not enough. With the right guidance, people who are good can become great. And their improvement will drive up the team performance more than any change in the weakest people ability.

In addition, people crave for attention, recognition and development. And if your best people will feel they don’t have enough of those they will be frustrated and they will leave. But even worse than that, they won’t be able to realize all of their potential. And that is the true role a manager. If you don’t do that, you fail as a manager.

I think this is true not only in the business setting, but also in other settings. So much attention goes to weak students, the troublesome soldiers, for those who fail that we forget those who succeeded, those who do everything right and those who are on the verge of excelling. I think, for example, that in any school, there should be at least an equal number of hours and resources spent on the most excellent students as those who go into those who struggle. How many times did you sit in class and felt that you are not being challenged because the teacher was going slower so the weak students could catch up. Now what would have happened if you were challenged.

Now, I am not saying that we should abandon the weak or ignore them. in the business setting we should find a better role for them or let them go. In education, we should also create ways to help them better themselves. But, if we want excellence and high performance (in the most wide interpretation of the word that includes intellectual performance), we should not forget those who succussed. With a little help, they could do so much more.



3 Responses to “Which team member should get most of your managerial attention – the weakest or the strongest?”

  1. What managers should do – a few thoughts about practical wisdom « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] recognized. Or as Barry calls it: “celebrate moral exemplars“. This is the guy you want to spend most of your time with. This is the guy, you want to learn and frame step one according to. This is the one you should try […]

  2. Did anybody notice? « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] most important point. You should recognize people for keeping the norm. This happens all the time. Managers concentrate on trying to “help” the struggling workers. Those who under perform. They think to themselves, hey – that guy who is doing OK doesn’t […]

  3. Best posts on The Comparative Advantage for 2009 (and a little more) « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] Which team member should get most of your managerial attention – the weakest or the strongest? […]

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