We need “A teams” not “All A Players”

This is the greatest mistake that happens when we try building teams . We start out with the intention of hiring an “A team” – and pretty soon it magically transforms into a hunt for “A players” . It took me a long while to realize it’s not the same – and often hiring all A players into one team hardly makes any sense .

There are only two ways of building an A team that I know of .
1. If you have money and luck on your side – hire all A players you can to fill each role in the team.
2. OR, hire a few A players with strong leadership skills and fill the rest with B and if needed some C players . Then make it the Responsibility of A players to bring along the B and C players

Option 1 is a no brainer . A players love working with other A players – but there are only so many of that caliber. And you probably can’t hire them all.

Individuals can win a few matches with their sheer talent . But to win consistently and become championship material – it takes a team . Not just any team – but an A team .

My favorite example is the Indian cricket team that won the 1983 World Cup . There were two top talent players – Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. Rest were average or slightly above average players if you look at their life time stats . Yet – Kapil led that team to win the World Cup , defeating the best West Indies team ever in the finals . That is the nature of A teams .

The Australian side of Steve Waugh in 90s was probably close an A team built with all A players . And they kept winning for a very long time , except when that crop of players retired – the team could not make another A team of A players . Now they are taking an approach which is closer to building an A team with couple of A players and the rest with B players .

I have had the fortune of working in A teams where every one was a star player , and also in A teams where only some players could be described as stars . But in both cases – output was stellar . And my current thinking is that the viable model is to discourage people from trying to build an A team of solely A players .

However, an A team with A, B and C players needs some ducks to line up in a row before their execution ability gets into stellar territory. Here are my top 6 thoughts .

1. An A team needs strong leadership – ideally an A player who can take responsibility of bringing along and improving the non-A players to play at major league. It’s the acid test of motivational ability of a leader.

2. Hire one or more A players to keep the leader honest throughout the time the team works together . Most often, of the leader alone is an A player – their ideas will go unchallenged . That can only hurt in the long term . You always need people in the team who can challenge the leader when needed

3. Never allow the B and C players to recruit . If you do – then the chance of them hiring an A player is close to zero. The biggest long term risk is the standard of incoming players decreasing over time and the team moving from stellar to mediocre status.

4. Don’t drink the “culture fit” koolaid in big gulps . It is important that people get along – but end of the day, fun needs to be balanced with output. And output needs specific skills and experience . This is a grey area at best – and a true test of a good leader is the ability to find the right compromise.

5. Stretch, but don’t break . A players typically can stretch a lot in the assignments they take on. Don’t let that make you try to stretch the B and C players too in similar fashion . Everyone has a breaking point – and the sooner the leader and team realizes everyone’s breaking point , the better the chance of great execution. In most cases , B and C players and can stretch the same as A players over time – as long as it is done in small increments .

6. Rotate players when they are successful . Let new players come in with new ideas . Let your A players go to other teams and expand their horizons . Share the wealth of talent – that is how it multiplies and scales .


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

2 thoughts on “We need “A teams” not “All A Players”

  1. Vijay – another good post in a row. Logically layered, how the A players need to manifest their skills rightfully – be it challenging another A player or boosting the rest of the team. And you never know, one of those B players might just turn out to be another champion. Leader’s pride! in stretching the right length. Had a good reading, thanks!


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