There are not many times when you are given the chance to build a team from the ground up. Most of the time we inherit people and you have to determine if they fit into this new design. These folks can sometimes feel like puzzle pieces that somehow got thrown into the wrong box. They are the same size and shade but you just know when you dump the pieces out on the table that these two or three, well um…don’t belong here. They go with another perfectly good puzzle just not this one.

What do you do? Do you design a team around them (the chicken part of the analogy) or do you design your optimal team ignoring these folks and let the cards fall where they may (the egg part of this equation)?

A mentor once told me “Never design a team around the current team members. Design your team for what the organization needs first and plug the people in second.” I will be honest, that can be hard. It is easy to fall into the trap of settling for good enough. There is less effort in this and less confrontation to deal with. However, the pain in the long run will be much greater because the output will be mediocre.

So how do you build a culture of teamwork and at the same time ensure you have the right team? How long do you assess before you cut? How do you know when to train and when to part ways? These are not simple questions. As leaders we need to take a holistic approach and demand excellence and not just output. I contend that as leaders if we want to build a culture that disrupts the status quo, one that impacts our industry the egg must come first. We must be willing to assemble our teams with excellence in mind.



  1. Tim | Reply

    Excellent post. It addresses something most leaders will inevitably run across if they intend to build an effective organization or team. I think the reality in most organizations is the need to have a clear vision of the optimal team but we must start with what we have and by focusing first on the culture core of the organization. We need to make sure the team has the common culture core of purpose, values and priorities for the organization to evaluate their work against (including results and behavior). People often jump to conclusions and make judgments about people even though their behavior is dramatically impacted by the lack of clarity and alignment in the organization. Far fewer people end up being a “problem” when there is a clear core of expectations and priorities that binds the team together. Team members that are an issue more clearly stand out to other team members and to the leader / boss when there is the common frame of reference. They must be dealt with but many turn around if there is new clarity brought to the team and their role in supporting the organization. If a team member is competent then I believe in giving them the chance to learn some new behaviors and you should clearly see progress in 1-2 months if it’s directly addressed. One person can destroy the entire team dynamic so I don’t believe in letting things last over six months and often recruiting efforts may need to be initiated in parallel. It’s a different story if there are competence and behavior issues. Make changes as fast as possible if there are major competence and behavior issues since it may be holding back the performance of the entire team.

    1. Chris Walden Post author | Reply
      Chris Walden

      Thanks for the comments, your position on One person can destroy the entire team dynamic so I don’t believe in letting things last over six months and often recruiting efforts may need to be initiated in parallel.” is a good one. I like that advice!

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