Editor’s note: Having great people is good, but having a great team is better

February 26, 2012

Growing up, I once played basketball for a coach who would regularly implore us to look for the open man and pass the ball.

There’s no “‘I’ in T-E-A-M,” he liked to say.

Indeed, as I got older, I came to appreciate the difference between a high-performing unit and just a collection of individuals.

The best coaches understand the importance of this alchemy, even if they cannot always master the results.

After all, you can scout and sign the best available, and still a Jeremy Lin manages to surprise.

Businesses are no different.

People matter, but people working in sync matter more.

This is a message that sometimes gets lost in our zeal to nurture a new generation of entrepreneurs.

Too often we seem to have assembled offices filled with enterprising free agents, talented in their own right but frustrated at their lack to get anything done within the larger organization.

Off they go to their next assignment, eternally seeking success and fulfillment.

The harder challenge is to keep people together long enough to create the kind of chemistry that produces true breakthroughs.

That’s not always easy at a time of economic uncertainty and technological change, and a great number of organizations do too little to develop their human capital. Management and training is often the first thing to get cut when dollars are tight.

I wonder if the consequences are not deeper than we realize. There’s been plenty of talk lately about the need to create a local ecosystem where people want to start companies built to endure and thrive. For a while now, the region seems more captivated with growing enterprises that can make attractive acquisitions, destined to be bought up and become someone else’s problem.

Is it any wonder that’s the preferred tack, given the transient nature of the workplace these days?

The experts say there could be a lot more job trading when the economy finally loosens up.

The smart companies could be those that take the time now to identify their best and brightest and then give that talent reasons to stay put, keeping the team together.

beyersd@washpost.com

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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