“The most creative ideas are spawned individually when you actually have time to think; not when you’re bombarded with a bunch of mediocre ideas.”

I’m sure what’s about to come will elicit a number of nasty-grams, but it needs to be said. Teaming concepts could be hurting your organization—facets such as group work, group think, brainstorming, team players and the like can be inertia to your company’s growth.  Sound odd?

Organizations engage my firm to help them hire the best talent.  I notice most of them place great emphasis on finding employees who possess team-player characteristics.  I often wonder why they stress such a small success factor.  Candidly, I think placing great weight on this characteristic is well past its sell-by date, especially in a world that moves at the speed of sound thanks to the Internet’s facilitation of the Global Microbrand.

At a macro level, I see the paradox. Some companies advance quickly while others fail at an alarmingly fast rate. In general, events—good or bad—happen at a speed that makes next quarter’s product release date too late for many companies.  I use to think anything moving that fast ought to have wings.  Now, I realize you only need a trunk full of creative types that think way ahead of everyone else.  Even so, many companies focus on recruiting team players so everyone gets along.  The everyone-gets-along concept is why we are forced to operate in the middle.  This concept applies to virtually anything from political candidates that gather a mere 51% of the votes to companies that are risk averse.

Here’s my observation of most “team players.”  They need other team players to survive. The most creative team players are handicapped with a middle-class team that drags them backward toward the sea of mediocrity usually because they need to compromise brilliant ideas so everyone can complete the workday with their feelings intact. Toss in the need to pick up slack for fellow team members who can’t pull their weight and, voila, you’ve managed to successfully dilute your star employee.

I can hear the questions running through your head.  “Why wouldn’t that be a great thing—hiring someone who is willing to help team members?”  That is a good thing, but it not’s the ultimate issue.  The point is you likely made a poor hire in the first place securing an employee who requires excessive assistance from team members to complete her job.  If that’s the case, hire someone better. Simply too much work for the entire team? Hire more people.

What about the whole being greater than the sum of the individual parts? Let’s take brainstorming.  Brainstorming doesn’t work because of the hurt feelings issue. The most creative ideas are spawned individually when you actually have time to think; not when you’re bombarded with a bunch of mediocre ideas.  Brainstorming works best when individuals have time to generate ideas on their own—free from interference.  When brought together at a later time, the group typically adds small, incremental improvements to the most brilliant idea.

What do you need instead of team players?  Creative thinkers.  Envelope pushers.  Needle movers.  People who think way ahead of everyone else.  People who are constantly waiting for others to catch up, but spend no time looking back because that’s irrelevant to their path.  They’re not concerned about how close the competition is because they are setting the market pace.  Concerned about the rest of the team?  Alienation?  I wouldn’t be because creative thinkers have a way of pulling the team forward—IF they are allowed to.

I cringe whenever I hear companies asking job candidates to tell them about a time when she worked in a group to gain consensus on an issue where there was some dissent.  I know the intent of the question, but I don’t know why the answer is overly relevant to advancing the company to the next generation. I’m sure the candidate can recollect some instance where she came to some middle ground so everyone left the room moderately happy (or at least indifferent).  I’d much rather the company asks the candidate to tell them about a time when she was in a room with 10 people and she was the only dissenter and everyone was telling her she was crazy and when she left the room everyone agreed with her.  There’s a better than 90% chance she is creative, but even if her idea “failed,” we at least know she has good influencing skills.

There’s nothing wrong with building a harmonious work environment. I’m a big fan of that.  The issue I’ve addressed is a piece of the puzzle required to operate your company during these changing times.