Most would agree that Michael Jordan was probably the best NBA basketball player ever. He won lots of championships in his career – yet even he only won 6 championships in 15 seasons. Wilt Chamberlain won 2 in 15 seasons. LeBron James has only won 3 in 14 NBA seasons. Babe Ruth won only 4 World Series Championships in 22 seasons. Best doesn't always mean you'll win everything or even win a lot. My favorite athlete of all-time, Pete Maravich, was considered possibly the best ball handler and shooting guard ever in the NBA and yet he had no championships and only played on two teams with winning records in his 10 NBA seasons.
So what am I getting at? You can assemble the same kinds of teams in the business world, only to sink a project or company because there wasn't the right chemistry or even the right planning involved. A huge tech project with the most talented technical staff may fall apart if they don't have the right project manager to lead them. Same goes with any key department in a company...it's more about collaboration and strategy than it is about being the very best at what you do. Individualism doesn't win championships...real teamwork does.
From my perspective and experience, in order to get the best from your team you must:
Be a decisive leader. If you are the project leader, then be a decisive leader. Make decisions - the best decisions possible – with the information you have at the time and involve your team. They will be a part of that process and they will see you as a leader who is strong and decisive and focused on the success of the project, not individual glory that you might gain from your involvement.
Involve everyone in planning processes. When planning strategy or planning the early phases of a tech project, involve the entire team, not just the top techs on the team. By involving everyone in, say, the requirements definition process or the functional design process or even the building out of the detailed project schedule...task by task...you now have given each team member a stake in ownership of the project. You will likely get their best on a more consistent basis because they help build out what the project or initiative is all about. They know it, understand it, and are aware of the tasks required to complete it. And probably already have a good idea of which ones they will be responsible for.
Look for contributions and accountability from everyone involved. Don't just go to the stars. If you are a project leader, get productivity from everyone. Assign tough tasks to all team members and expect weekly accountability from each team member for their respective tasks. If you involve everyone, then everyone will be involved.
Acquire team members who can work well and play well with others. The best of the best often come with big egos. That can be a cancer on an otherwise great team. It's tough to see through that during hiring processes or team selection processes, so be careful to ask tough questions and not just take the best talent with blinders on. I've personally lead projects where the team looked like all-stars on paper only to go way over budget or timeframe because of rogue team member behavior – choosing not to follow processes and linear sequential task movements. They thought they knew better and that the rules didn't apply to them.
Summary / call for input
You may think you want to look for the best – ready to pay top dollar. But that isn't always necessary and isn't often your best solution. Put together something like what the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates did when they adopted the song “We are Family” as their theme and rode it – and their mediocre talent pool – all the way to the World Series Championship title.
Readers – what is your take? Your thoughts on this list and what you might change or add to it? This is really just a start – please share your thoughts and discuss.