In a recent podcast, Malcolm Gladwell talks about an idea that is applied in sports – probably made famous by the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt.

The premise is simple. Some sports take a strong-link approach to building a successful team. That is, they spend a lot of energy and money (think football teams) buying the best and most expensive players in order to build a successful team and championship campaign around them.

Other sports (not many) take a weak-link approach. That is, they focus their efforts on improving or working on their weak links. In his podcast, Gladwell makes the case that if sports teams, as a general rule, focused on their weak links, they’d be far more successful (win more) and save a heck of a lot of money. 

Why?

While strong links are excellent players and match winners, they rely heavily on the 6, 7 or 8 plays before they even get to touch “the ball” to make an impact. The quality of those build-up plays ultimately determines how strong the strong links will be. By focusing attention on the weak links in the team – i.e. getting better “average players” that cost much less – the strong links are more likely to play even better and won’t cost a fortune because you no longer need to spend as much money on the best players in the league.

What is really intriguing about this idea is the potential application in business and organisations. 

How often do we find ourselves focusing our attention on strong links, i.e. the superstars whose workloads increase and who cost a fortune to retain, instead of on the weak links around them? 

To remedy this, managers need to successfully apply a weak-link approach to managing their teams. Here’s how:

1. Objectively identify who your weak links are

Use data, performance metrics, quantitative and qualitative data to identify performance above and below the benchmark, then identify the core reason/s for the lower levels of performance.

2. Decide on a strategy to either improve weak-link performance or get them out of your team

This sounds harsh – but it’s necessary. If someone is not performing, they deserve to know it and to be supported in order to improve. And if they can’t meet the required performance standards, then they need to find a place where they can succeed.

3. Focus on the performance of the “system”

Working on the weak links in your team improves the overall average performance of the “system”. Engaging more meaningfully with these individuals may have the added benefit of helping individuals become more engaged with their own performance.

In considering all of the above, it’s obvious that a team’s best players can’t be everywhere on the field at the same time. Nor can all teams afford to buy stars. But certainly, with Gladwell’s insights in mind, every team can enhance their overall performance by focusing more on their weak links.

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