(This post was first published here on September 6, 2016.)

In order to be a great team, there are specific tasks that need to be done very well. The word “talent” describes what is required in order to achieve each of these tasks with excellence. Great teams have the right mix of people who have the talents needed to achieve these specific tasks.

John Wooden—the legendary UCLA basketball coach and one of the all-time best assemblers of any kind of team—was known for not allowing a focus to be put on any one talented superstar, but for always making sure the focus was on the overall team. But even with this reluctance to focus on great talent, Wooden is quoted as saying, “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.” As committed as he was to the character of the team, he knew the importance of having the right mix of talent.

In a similar way, I’m inclined to say that having the right talent might be the least important of the eight characteristics of great teams—AND it is still very important.

One of my all-time favorite books is First Break All the Rules by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham. They define talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” This definition takes a little processing to fully understand, but it does a nice job of capturing what we’re talking about when we refer to talent.

Talents are often tied to gifts, one of the traits we defined as part of our DoKnowBe Tree roots. Sometimes talents aren’t tied to gifts, but instead have been developed through brute effort over thousands of hours of intentional practice. Either way, each great team needs specific talents, and without them the team won’t be great.

Great leaders don’t leave getting the right talent on their team to chance. They are clear about what talents are needed and they work to find the people who have them. In pro and college sports this always involves intentional recruiting or drafting of the right talents, followed by the development of those talents both in the individuals and in the full team. And I’m sure it goes without saying that those who don’t have the talents needed are invited off the team, one way or another.

To recruit the kind of talent you need, and then to develop them, you need to have some clarity about what talents your team needs. For a football team, a coach knows he needs people who can block well, run the ball well, and throw and catch the ball well, among other things. For a soccer team, the coach knows she needs players who can run fast while controlling the ball, see the field and pass the ball well, and receive the ball well. She also needs some players who can kick the ball with great speed and accuracy.

At Leading by DESIGN we are committed not only to teaching great leadership topics, but also to practicing what we preach. As such, we too are intentional about recruiting and developing the talents we need in order to achieve our mission. We have identified people who each have several of the following talents:

  1. Being a great coach who can ask great questions and be a high-impact listener.
  2. Being a great teacher who knows how to craft a message and deliver it in a compelling way.
  3. Designing great sessions that combine meaningful content with effective processes.
  4. Planning for the future so that we will achieve our vision of having 1,000 leaders participate in LEAD 365 by the year 2027.
  5. Being great at marketing and selling so we can get those 1,000 leaders to participate in something that’s hard to describe.

Once a team has the right mix of talents, the focus shifts to the other seven characteristics of great teams:

  • having common goals
  • being committed to each other and to those goals
  • being effective communicators
  • creating high levels of trust
  • understanding teammates (and themselves)
  • giving each other grace (defined as undeserved favor)
  • trying to build special chemistry that makes being on the same team a joy

I hope this reminder about the importance of getting the right mix of talent on your team is helpful. Hopefully, over time your team will become more and more talented in the things that make the greatest impact in achieving your purpose and vision.

Make it a great week!

Image by Pauline Gesta. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.