I completely understand that this is an extremely subjective matter and to quote Paul Simon: “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”. What’s a rockstar anyway? Building a high performance team dedicated to doing genome sequence research is most likely quite different than putting together eleven soccer players to win the World Cup or a hiring few hundred technology specialists to help power your company to achieve its business objectives, right?
I don’t think so. Yes, of course there are nuances of each of those specific areas. Of course the skills and expectations will vary between all of the above but they all have ONE thing in common. THE MISSION. You can not build a rockstar team without the mission, the end goal, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the light at the end of the tunnel, whatever else you want to call it. Every team of rockstars need to strive towards something, and that something is not to punch the clock but rather to achieve the mission. The missions can vary from putting a man on the moon, to developing a new drug to cure cancer, to building a new service on AWS. The mission is also not a task or a body of work but rather the objective and the relentless focus on getting there in the best way possible.
The mission is just a start and a few more ingredients are required to put together a rockstar team. Here is my list of top 5 items that are absolutely necessary for this recipe of success:
- The mission
- The right talent
- Roles and responsibilities
- Keeping the score
Let’s discuss each one of these ingredients in more detail.
Make sure your company has one. Make sure your division or department has one. It doesn’t have to be grandiose such as curing cancer but you must have something that is your guiding light. In addition to the mission (e.g. “Being the most recognized rock band in the world”) you should also set some rockstar objectives for the short and long term (“sell 100,000 copies of our “Rock That Guitar” album in the next 12 months and become platinum album holder in the next 3 years”)
Without the mission, you will not attract top-notch rockstars as they are simply not interested in punching the clock. They want to join a band that is cool, hip and going somewhere. Let’s be honest, it’s much more exciting playing on the big stage than playing in someone’s garage.
The Right Talent
Once your mission and objectives are defined, you know who you need to bring on board to help on your journey. The focus in hiring the right talent is now shifting away from ensuring that the candidate is the BEST one out of the pool of many and instead to the candidate being the RIGHT one for the job. Does the candidate have sufficient experience, is flexible enough, excited to learn, is he or she a fit for our mission, and willing to go on the journey with us? These are the questions the companies who attract rockstars are now asking.
At CTP we follow this exact philosophy. We are not interested in hiring people who are simply the best fit against the experience and education criteria specified in our job reqs but might not be a good team player. We would take a person who might be missing a checkmark on a couple of categories of experience but demonstrates the hunger to learn and passion for what we do over someone who has all the right skills but just wants to clock in and out. Technology is changing by the minute, and AWS alone releases hundreds of new features every year. The goal is not to hire someone who knows it all but rather someone who can get up to speed quickly as needed. As Einstein once said “Intelligence is not the ability to store information, but to know where to find it.”
Roles and Responsibilities
Once you have the right talent, you need to assemble it into a rockstar team. Wikipedia has the following description for the team:
“A team is a group of individuals working together to achieve a goal. A group does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams normally have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.”
I am sure everyone will agree that 11 star quarterbacks don’t make a team in football just like four Paul McCartneys don’t make the Beatles. You need to fill the right positions with the right players in order to create a team of rockstars. These players need to be good at their own position and complement their team members’ skills to be collectively better in order to achieve their objectives. And the goals they are trying to achieve should adhere to the company’s mission and to the team’s short and long term objectives.
Whether you’re on a project team trying to deliver a certain outcome in a fixed period of time, or a member of the company’s finance organization, you should feel like you’re part of the team, play your position, and ensure you help your teammates do their part.
At CTP, we get hired to help our clients solve some really challenging public cloud issues. To do that, we evaluate the requirements from the client and put together the best possible team of rockstars with complementary skills to deliver value in the most effective way possible. These skills vary from organizational change management to cloud architecture to software development to security and governance, risk and compliance.
One of the most important aspects of creating an environment where the rockstars flourish is the ability to motivate and inspire the team. When asked the question of motivation, some of the immediate reactions tend to go toward compensation. Of course we all work for a living, and compensation is an incredibly important part, but motivating the team of rockstars is not simply about the money.
Rockstars want to feel like they are making a difference. They want to know their hard work is actually contributing to some greater purpose. That’s where the company’s mission and the team’s goals come into play. One of the biggest motivators for successful teams is understanding and awareness of how their work contributes to the bigger picture.
High performers like to work towards outcomes and deadlines and prefer autonomy. They like the flexibility and freedom to deliver expected results (the new story) instead of just coming to work 9-5 and do what they can while being micromanaged (the old story). They want to create new “stuff” instead of simply maintaining and fixing the existing mess.
Keeping the Score
“If You’re Not Keeping Score, You’re Just Practicing”. I think Vince Lombardi is spot on here. No matter how good the team is, its accomplishments and progress should be measured and direction adjusted accordingly. We can talk about flexibility, creativity, motivation and inspiration all day long; however, if the team is fully inspired, yet runs around in circles while the other team (or company) is running up the score, somebody should inject a dose of reality into the situation. Keeping score keeps everyone honest.
Real rockstar teams check their egos at the door, giving and receiving feedback constructively because they understand that the feedback is the mechanism for them to get better. It’s a not a criticism (if given properly) but rather a conscious desire to help the team and each “…. member to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses”.
Rockstars are fully accountable for their successes and their failures. Nobody is perfect, and failures are inevitable. The issue is not whether you will fail but how soon and how you recover. In order to stay on top of their game, rockstars continuously learn new technologies, innovate, and fail quickly. They learn from those failures, turn around, and create a product/service/outcome that in the end is truly beneficial to the company and its clients.
The real key here is the proactive and honest feedback loop and the ability to learn from the situation and adjust quickly. That does not happen easily in the “old story” companies but is absolutely expected in the “new story” ones.
The Final Takeaway
Nobody is born a rockstar, but you can become one through determination, perseverance, passion, continuous desire to learn and dogged pursuit of being the best in your chosen field. And if you take those individual rockstars, inspire them with a vision, give them ability to create and innovate, establish clear goals + objectives for them individually and as a team, and then set them free … that’s the recipe for a high performance rockstar team.