No Image Available

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Teams vs Individual Talent: A meditation on Take That


Stepping into the debate over teams vs individual talent, LSN’s Chris Glennie continues his trend for drawing leadership insights from unlikely sources…

Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts, or does individual talent trump the creativity and productivity of a team? This, in effect, is the nub of a debate that recently raged on the blog pages of Harvard Business Review.

In the blue corner  is William Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine, taking issue with a comment of Mark Zuckerberg’s that ‘Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good … they are a hundred times better.’ (Read the full article ‘Great People Are Overrated’)

In the red corner is Jeff Stibel, chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., putting the opposite case. His argument rests on the assertion that ‘great individuals are not only more valuable than legions of mediocrity, they are often more valuable than groups that include great individuals.’ (Read the full article ‘Why a Great Individual Is Better Than a Good Team’)

Now, instinctively, I’m in the blue corner, through prejudice, education and experience, and in truth the argument narrowed down to the value of talented programmers, which kind of lost me. And so that was that.

Until I went to see Take That at Wembley Stadium. Now, I have terrible taste in music, I really do. The only previous gig I’ve been to is the X factor tour, and I’m quite happy to sit in the car on long journeys with only radio 4 for company. If I do throw music on it’s as likely to be Kylie as Coldplay. But I was struck by how this particular event perfectly encapsulated the two sides of the HBR argument.

Here’s how it plays:

The set opens with the four members of the original five who re- formed a few years back: Gary, Jason, Howard and Mark. They’re good, really good. They don’t exactly dance anymore, not like they used to (hey, these guys are over 40 now), but they move together well, interact, play off each other. And you think: Well, that’s about as good as it gets, isn’t it?

But then, before you really know it, the four have disappeared and the manic, charismatic and frankly already too-sweaty figure of Robbie Williams more-or-less just appears on stage, turning at the cameras. And the crowd literally goes wild. It’s what they clearly all came for, and he doesn’t disappoint. Let him entertain us – yes, we did. And I couldn’t help thinking that it’s got a level of energy, excitement, engagement that makes it, well, better than what came before. Worth the money on its own. And that what was inevitably coming – all five back on stage – would be a disappointment.

But it wasn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, at times the cheeky-chappie threatened to break ranks, and when he does it nearly breaks down, but by and large he works as one of the team, and the whole event just soars.

And my conclusion? There’s no one way to get this right. There’s no doubt that a star talent can be a challenge to integrate into a team, and I’ve no doubt that the band has to work hard on the teamwork. I’ve no doubt it will run its course, just as it did last time. And when the ego gets too big, it will be time (and right and proper) to say goodbye again. But while they are together, properly harnessed, properly managed, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and it’s the soaring individual talent that can make that happen.

Chris Glennie

No Image Available

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!