Small Business

Lessons from the Dugout: The Team Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Players

Lessons From the Dugout

Previous articles in this series have focused on the importance of listening to management and of waiting for the right opportunities to present themselves.

In today’s post, I want to explain why building a winning team is far more complicated than merely signing a collection of great players.

Lesson 3: The Team Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Players

Baseball has always been a game of statistics. Kids spend hours memorizing their favorite players’ batting averages and home run tallies. Diehard fans can recite box scores from postseason games decades after they’re played. Major league pitchers know the batting preferences of every player they face at home plate. But over the past decade or so, statistics have evolved from a reflection of the game to the engine that drives it.

As we’ve seen from books like Moneyball, owners and managers now employ data analytics to inform virtually every decision they make on the field and off – from batting orders and fielder placements to player trades and salaries.

At, we’ve seen the same trends in business, led by the world’s largest enterprises entering an era of “digital transformation.” Of course, now that the big guys have done it, small and medium-sized businesses are looking at the role big data can play in small business. And while your barbershop or restaurant chain may not be featured nightly on ESPN, big data can certainly have an impact on your team.

No one will dispute that big data has transformed baseball just as it has business. But I still believe that assembling a winning team isn’t a purely numerical game. A player or employee’s personal character is virtually impossible to quantify. You want to bring people into your organization who don’t just have solid numbers, but who have skills and attitudes that complement the other members of your team.

A great example can be drawn from my other favorite sport, soccer. Those of you who watched the 2014 World Cup will remember the hype around the team from the host country, Brazil. It was a who’s-who of players from the best clubs around the globe, brought together and subjected to a scientifically precise training regimen. Pundits said it was an unbeatable team – the only question was how many goals they would score on the way to the trophy.

Of course, the team that looked unbeatable on a spreadsheet wasn’t nearly as invincible on the field.  The Brazilians lacked cohesion, they never gelled from a group of great players into a great team, and they were embarrassed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals (and drubbed once again by Holland in the consolation game).

The lesson for businesses is clear: Whether the numbers tell you that your company can’t win or that it can’t lose, the numbers almost never tell the whole story.

Assembling a winning team in your boardroom is really no different than assembling one in a locker room. You’ll have individuals from a variety of social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Some may be “people-people” while others feel more comfortable interacting with a database.

Your job as a leader is to see how each person’s abilities complement and build upon those of the others. Every single person in your organization has value – your task is to uncover, unlock and direct that value in a way that is rewarding to your business and personally fulfilling to your team.

I’d be remiss to leave out that at, we offer a hiring tool specialized for helping small businesses identify the right people to round out their mix. Take a moment to check it out. In business and in sports, you don’t need people who think they are superstars. You just need people who think like a team.

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