Do management teams actually become stale? Absolutely. High-performance is fragile. There’s a few reasons why teams sometimes lose their lustre.
The first is personalities. If you’re hiring really good people, you’ll have a bunch of rugged individualists, and there will be disagreements.
When people are consumed by a drive for excellence, it can be tricky to harness that, and to keep the positive, constructive tension from boiling over into acrimony. But it’s totally worth it, because this is where superior performance is forged.
I still subscribe to the universal truth that it’s a lot easier to rein in a stallion than it is to flog a donkey.
The second reason that teams lose their lustre is that ambition is tough to nurture and manage in the long term. An awesome 2IC is someday going to want to be number one, but not everyone can be the big dog in the fight.
High performers are, by definition, ambitious. How many elite performers at the top of their game, do you know, who like to play second fiddle? Whether it’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at the Red Bull F1 team, or Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin in the immortal Chicago Bulls NBA team, high performers don’t like to live in the shadow of others, and often look to move on to greener pastures.
The third reason teams lose their lustre and performance declines is that the people you lead sometimes simply stop listening.
They’ve heard it all before. Your effectiveness actually wanes over time. And as the organization builds an immunity to you, funnily enough, you become predictable. And as I say, predictability is the downside of consistency. So there’s a balance to strike there.
I run into peers who are adamant that, if you’re any good as a CEO, you can lead the same company indefinitely. But I felt as though my effectiveness was significantly reduced after only five years at CS Energy. I think the old saying, familiarity breeds contempt is spot on. Why would it not apply to leaders and their teams?
The fourth reason for team decline is simply that high-pressure environments can really take their toll. When you’re moving really quickly and creating the type of team that’s dominating, it can be stressful.
Pushing to be the best takes boundless energy, pragmatic optimism, and unrelenting commitment: not everyone has the resilience to handle this comfortably. People struggle to keep this pressure from blowing up.
If we look at elite sportspeople, a lot of their time is spent in injury management and recovery. They have teams of doctors, physical therapists, nutritionists, and psychologists to maintain them between the fierce bouts of high level competition.
Even though we tend not to think of business in this way, it’s every bit as stressful at the highest level as elite sports, and requires the same level of attention to the individual to keep them in a condition where they can perform week after week.