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Care for Chemistry Before People

Care for Chemistry Before People
Published July 1, 2008 by Scott Belsky
Legendary companies like Google and Goldman Sachs are famous for saying that success is all about people. Gathering great talent, it seems, is a sure bet for tremendous breakthroughs. Entire industries have sprung up to help managers find and hire top talent (think head-hunters!). And many leaders claim that all they think about is finding great people - “nothing,” they claim, “is more important than hiring a great team.”
Ahh, if only “success” could be so simple! There are many examples of incredible groups of people that assemble and fail to achieve greatness. Whether it is the largest software company in the world that pays top dollar for talent but creates sub-par products or the small start-up of all-stars that can’t launch a product - we learn that a “hire great people” strategy won’t cut it. When great people fail, they tend to blame the quality of the idea or the market conditions. However, we have started to notice another ingredient that seems to be a BETTER predictor of success than people: Chemistry. A team’s chemistry is composed of factors such as shared respect, feedback exchange, complementary skills, and a common set of tenets. You can have the greatest, most brilliant people working together, but if the chemistry is not right - such a great team is worthless. The leadership skills required to hire great people are quite different from the capacity to develop chemistry. Leaders we have interviewed explain that good chemistry requires introspection. The team must constantly fine-tune their working relationships. Every discomfort and ambiguity must be used as an opportunity to strengthen the team.
You can have the greatest, most brilliant people working together, but if the chemistry is not right - such a great team is worthless.
The argument can be made that you should focus more on the people you have than on the general objective of attracting and hiring great people. As you focus on your team’s chemistry, consider the following 4 tips: (1) Take Your Team's Temperature: When a problem is brewing, our tendency is to block it out. But an "infection" left untreated can become a full-blown disaster. Use methods to detect and address concerns before they evolve into problems. (2) Focus on Results, Not Time: Working hours remain rigid, and morale suffers when the rules fail to support the ultimate goal: a productive creative workplace. Promote a chemistry that is not about face-time. (3) Fight Your Way to Breakthroughs: Many creative teams believe that their greatest mistakes are made when nobody argues. Promote a chemistry that is comfortable with conflict. (4) Leaders Should Talk Last: Promote a team atmosphere where even the most junior people feel comfortable sharing their opinions. Often times a leader can strengthen a team’s chemistry just by talking less.  

More about Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

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