The Beatles and Great Teams

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If you’re trying to create a great team, you may want to keep in mind some of the traits that made the Beatles one of the greatest teams in recent history:

  1. Diverse, yet complementary, skill sets. Guitars were a crucial element of the Beatles success, yet Ringo Starr was a terrible guitar player. Guitar playing wasn’t a skill set that Ringo brought to the game. Instead, he was the perfect drummer for the band. John Lennon may have been a musical genius, but if he had been the Beatles’ drummer, the band wouldn’t have lasted a week. Paul McCartney can play virtually any instrument, but he really shone (and still shines) as a bass player–he’s one of the best bass players in rock history. The point is that the Beatles weren’t made up of four lead guitarists, or four bass players, or four drummers. Their individual instrumental skills–lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums–combined perfectly to create the band’s unique sound. In a great team, you don’t want a group of people who all have the same skill sets. Think about it–would you want to hear a band made up of four drummers and nobody else?
  2. Diverse points of view. Similarly, if the members of your team always agree on everything, you’ve got problems. One of the reasons that the songs Lennon or McCartney wrote for the Beatles tend to hold up better than most of their solo work is because of disagreements. Lennon would come in with a song idea for the band, and McCartney (or Harrison, or Starr) would be free to say, “John, that’s crap.” And the band would then either drop the song or work together to make it better. The four Beatles were four distinct individuals. The popular stereotype of the band–Paul: the cute one; John: the smart one; George: the quiet one; Ringo: the lovable one–may not have been as true as the press would have us believe, but each Beatle did have his own unique identity, and his own unique ideas. You need different points of view in a great team. There was a wonderful line in the TV series The West Wing, where the Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, described the President, Jed Bartlet, as somebody who “likes being around smart people who disagree with him.” A little disagreement by smart people can be a very good thing for a great team.
  3. A common goal. Diverse skill sets, diverse points of view, and smart disagreements are all wonderful–but only if they’re working in the service of a common goal. I call it a Single, Shared Vision. On a grand level, the Beatles were going to be “bigger than Elvis.” On a smaller level, the Beatles brought their diverse skill sets, diverse points of view, and smart disagreements into play on every song. On this, smaller, level, the song itself was the Single, Shared Vision. Disagreement is crucial for a great team, but there can’t be any disagreement about the ultimate goal. If you’re taking a trip, you and your team can argue about the best route to take, but you’d better be in agreement about the destination.

The Beatles had their faults, of course, and subsequently broke up. In the later stages of their career, for example, they were no longer four people with a Single, Shared Vision; rather, they were four people with several Single, Unshared Visions. But if you really want to create a great team for your business (including outside team members like accountants, graphic designers, PR professionals, etc.), you might benefit by taking a closer look at the elements that made the Beatles a truly great team.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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