The 'Moneyball' approach to business hiring

Entrepreneur and author J. Allan McCarthy draws examples from the sporting world in his latest book Beyond Genius, Innovation & Luck: The ‘Rocket Science’ of Building High-Performance Corporations.

Great coaches take into consideration an athlete’s talent and heart when they’re building a team, but they consider group dynamics, too, according to McCarthy, who has worked with more than 200 companies, including Cisco Systems, Raychem Corporation, SAP, Redback Networks, BEA Systems and Ericsson.

“It’s not just a matter of getting the fastest, strongest and smartest players on your side,” noted McCarthy. “If you’re building a championship team, you’re gauging how the individual athletes fit together: how their personalities, talents, drive and abilities will mesh to meet the team’s goals. It’s exactly what you need to do to build a winning corporate team. As Michael Jordan, put it, ‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.’ ”

In the 2011 film Moneyball, Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) picks his players based on analysis and evidence, noted McCarthy. He doesn’t ever just “go with his gut.”

McCarthy shared the following key points for building a successful, effective team.

Lead with a team, not a group
A team of leaders behaves very differently than a group of leaders. Many companies don’t know the difference. “It comes down to clear goals, interdependencies and rules of engagement,” McCarthy explained. Every corporation claims to hire only the best and the brightest but it is evident that getting the best and brightest to function as a team can be a challenge.

Know your goals
McCarthy cited Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on this point: “Teams should be able to act with the same unity of purpose and focus as a well-motivated individual.” Many big-name CEOs like to say their talent runs free with innovative ideas. “It makes for compelling literature,” McCarthy said. But would that work in the real world? Organizations need their personnel to think out-of-the-box but also act in a prescriptive culture -- to work within a system in order to achieve common objectives.

Create a 'foxhole mentality'
The problem with executives is that they all want to lead and none want to follow, McCarthy said. A team made up of executives is like a group of thoroughbred stallions confined to a small space called an organization -- plenty of kicking, biting and discord. Thoroughbreds don’t naturally work well as a team. Better to define responsibilities that build a “foxhole mentality,” wherein one person has the gun, the other the bullets, McCarthy added. It’s in the best interests of both for each to succeed.

Become adept at resolving conflict
Hiring the best and the brightest should create a diverse, competent group — but inevitably these individuals generate friction that can sabotage an organization's progress. So, sensitize team members to the early warning signs: know-it-all attitudes, multi-tasking during team meetings, exhibiting dominant behavior, not responding in a timely fashion or engaging in avoidance. Agree, as a team, on how to mutually manage and minimize counterproductive behaviors as they surface.

Create individual and team agreements
The final stage of planning establishes who will do what for team objectives, as well as a collective agreement on team rules and interdependencies. Ask individuals to openly commit to what they will do, and how the team is to function. The public declaration stresses employee obligation and collaborative management.

“We live in a 21st-century economy where speed and efficiency is a top priority, and that often means a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality,” McCarthy observed. “But you get the team that you plan for, not necessarily what you pay for. If time is money, then I’d invest it in creating and building a championship team.”