The Well Balanced Team: Me, Myself, and I

The Well Balanced Team: Me, Myself, and I
By George Gendron

George has been writing about entrepreneurship for over 25 years. He was the founding editor of Inc. Magazine, one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship magazines. George created the Inc.500, the definitive listing of the fastest growing private companies in the US. He currently leads the entrepreneurship programs at Clark University in the US.

Teams. Just say the word anywhere in business these days and we all nod our heads solemnly. There's no "I" in the word team. You know the mantra. And don't get me wrong: we believe it. Or at least we think we do. But for all that's been written and preached about the subject, there's still one thorny problem that's rarely discussed. We like to be surrounded by people like ourselves. This is particularly true for those of us who pride ourselves on being conceptualizers, idea generators.

We pay lip service to the idea that a well balanced team requires people who are terrific at execution, at getting things done, but if we're honest with ourselves we still place a huge premium on traditional creativity - the ability to come up with good ideas, and lots of them.

There's a problem with this way of thinking. It's outdated, old fashioned - not creative. Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the information age is the extent to which new ideas can be shared instantly and everywhere. If you're like me, barely a week goes by in which, in some context or another, I find myself thinking there are too damned many new ideas out there. In fact, I'd argue that in many instances new ideas have become commodities. What is rare is the individual with the experience, drive, and commitment to take ideas and execute them well.

Now all this may sound very remedial. It's not. It's one thing to believe it in the abstract, and quite another to act on it. I took over my first magazine when I was 25. I confess that it took me a decade to truly appreciate the role of a world-class managing editor. I like to believe that my magazines were consistently good, even excellent, when it came to editorial quality, positioning in the marketplace, brand building. They were also a mess internally.

My organizations weren't messes because they were mismanaged but because they really weren't managed at all. When I hired, I hired for conceptual horsepower, even for jobs where I should have been looking for management skills. In other words, I was on the lookout for more me's. (I've since learned that one me is about all most organizations can tolerate.)

Then in 1985 I hired a managing editor who was truly gifted at managing. From the start, she had this habit of making everyone accountable for deadlines, including me. She introduced systems, shared schedules and budgets with the entire staff. Meetings began and ended on time. I have to confess I didn't like her much, or at least what she was doing to my magazine. And then the most unexpected thing started to occur. Writers, editors and designers - the most creative people on staff-started coming to me telling me how much more they enjoyed their work since the new managing editor had arrived. Not only that, but they went on to tell me that they felt they were able to better work in this environment. In other words, the order introduced by our new managing editor didn't stifle creativity, it enhanced it.

I don't believe in epiphanies, but this was one for me. It forever changed how I thought about talent, about the importance of balance and diversity on every team. Don't believe me? Ask that managing editor. She's easy enough to find these days. She's my wife.

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