“Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.”

According to Michael Lewis, Shane Battier is the unmeasurable glue that makes the teams he plays on better (and knowing squat about basketball I’ll take his word for it – but I can think of many examples of such players in other sports). And so goes the dilema for anyone in management, whether sports, software development, or any other. There are certain teammates that defy statistical measurement, other than wins (in the case of sports teams), but that none-the-less these people indisputably make the team better (ie more likely to win, or create a great product, deliver a great service, etc).

In the end success, at least the elements the team can control, comes down to the individuals – each beautiful unique snowflake – what makes them tick, how they can contribute, how they work together as a group, etc. Unfortunately most large organisations that I’ve seen (both for- and non-profit) treat employees and/or volunteers as interchangeable cogs in a big machine, recruited against some cookie cutter arbitrary job spec, and measured every year against equally arbitrary and abstract performance criteria. Re-org’d, re-shuffled, and re-assigned at random intervals.

Most smart managers of high performing teams subvert, either directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, the status quo and find smart people by any means possible, help them find them interesting and challenging things to do (unlocking the third drive), and build a structure for them to contribute, grow, and eventually leave. Smart companies treat people as individuals from the start – Zappos and Netflix come to mind, also Best Buy as a ROWE.

While there are always anomalies, teams ultimately dissipate over time – high retention rate could equally be a sign of stagnation rather than perfect team alignment and assignment. Your teams performance in 2+ years time will be defined by this year’s recruiting class – if you can keep them that long (aparently 20-somethings switch jobs every 18 months)

Who says management is boring?