Lab Manager Academy: Why All-Star Teams Fail

Four Key Strategies to Getting Everyone to Play Nice in the Sandbox.

By Gregg Gregory

Bobby was selected to his County All- Star high school baseball team. He was so excited; he was going to get to play with all of the other great players from his region. There was no shortage of talent on the All-Star Team either. Each of the boys selected had scholarships to colleges across the U.S. and they were all tops in their positions, including Bobby.

This County All-Star Team was invited to play against another county. This county did not select an all-star team—rather Bobby’s team was going to face the thirdplace team in its division. Bobby and the rest of the team were psyched at the fact they would destroy their opponents. By all accounts on paper they should win going away. Only a couple of the opposing team’s players received any scholarships. It was a hot afternoon late in May when, to the amazement of everyone in attendance, Bobby’s team lost by the slaughter rule in just five innings. What went wrong and why did they fail? Let’s look at this from several different levels.

Let’s start with the personal level. There is something to the old expression, “Show me someone who has not failed and I will show you someone who has not taken risks.” We have all failed at some point in our lives. Think back to your childhood and when you were learning to ride a twowheeler. Were you one of those kids (you know the type) who never used training wheels? Most of us needed our training wheels; now what about when you took them off—what happened?

If you were like the majority, you fell—a lot—and did you give up? Most likely not. You kept going and learning from your mistakes. Failing on an individual basis is different than an all-star failing. Individuals gain insight and can grow greatly from failures. All-star teams, on the other hand, come to the table with significant individual accomplishments already behind them and the level of expectation to succeed is much greater.

Look at the U.S. basketball team in the world championships last year. With a team full of NBA stars, 12 to be exact, they finished third in the world games and lost to Greece, a team with no NBA stars on the team. The sports reporters were saying things like, “show me a team of misfits playing like a team and they can beat a team of superstars any day”.

Generally, in order to be on an all-star team, you usually are selected because of the talents you displayed in the work environment. This environment can be a playing field of sports or the daily grind in the office.

Let’s look at why many all-star teams fail. This can be broken down into a four strategic areas:

The organization has not built a culture of trust and respect

As mentioned above, All-Star teams are usually built from stellar performers; and that means enormous egos, which sometimes translates into a lack of trust of others. Suppose you know for a fact that Sarah is lying to Jonathan on the team. How well will you trust what Sarah says to you in the future?

When there is solid trust and respect, you even have outstanding conflict resolution. Without conflict how can the team move forward? Yet poor conflict resolution can lead to animosity and increase the lack of trust. Poor conflict resolution can be as simple as not accepting the other person’s point of view and then allowing the conflict to become personal. Once it becomes personal, the likelihood of moving forward is diminished greatly.

Failure to recognize the chemistry necessary to succeed

In the movie “Miracle” staring Kurt Russell as U.S. Olympic Team coach Herb Brooks, he says “I am not looking for the best players, I am looking for the right players.” This is a critical part of why the U.S. Olympic team defeated the Soviets in 1980 at Lake Placid. The chemistry was right. They had a group of no names all working together and defeated what many call the greatest sports dynasty ever.

It is still possible to have the right players on the team and if they are not doing the job that best suits him/her then it is just as much a failure. Randy was a good loan originator in the mortgage industry, but not a stellar producer. When his supervisor suggested that he become processor, he felt like he was being brushed off. After explaining that this was because his talents would allow him to better serve the team from that position and he would likely experience greater success in the long run, Randy agreed to make the move.

After just about 18 months he realized he actually was better working on the inside. He quickly became an underwriter and later became director of operations for the same mortgage company. This was a classic example of right team wrong position. Had the original leader not recognized the chemistry mismatch, Randy’s career could have take a very different path.

Lack of mutual accountability

It is one thing for the leadership to hold everyone accountable, (and they should) it is another when members hold each other accountable. Some of the best teams are those whose leaders are only there to be a resource in the event of a problem. Team members take care of the basic problems as they arise by holding each other 110 percent accountable. The Hillstone Restaurant Group which owns Houston’s, Gulf Stream, and Bandera restaurants among others follows this strategy perfectly. Each server in the restaurant is responsible for his/her tables, yet, in essence, it is the responsibility of everyone to serve every table and at the end of the shift the servers do not share in the tips. They constantly hold each other accountable.

Poor team language

Listen to how the team members talk. Are they saying things like, “I do not get this” or “I think it should have been done this way”. How about “I want to see more of…?”

This is individual-centered language and is not healthy for a team to move forward. On the other hand, they might say things like, “We can make this work”, or “if we do it this way then…, or when we get through this section we can…”

These are more team-based statements and the language indicates that the team is in charge and is balanced.

Let’s face it—we will never get along with everyone. On the other hand, if we can understand the other person’s behaviors a little better then we as a team can become better producers, and that is the little secret of playing nice in the sandbox.

With over 25 years of experience, Gregg Gregory has helped organizations, such as U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; National Institutes of Health; Chesapeake Bay Research Consortium and Bridge Pharmaceuticals, develop a greater focus, more cooperation, increased productivity, and a greater impact. Gregg’s programs are peppered with anecdotes, inspirational stories and filled with humorous real-life examples to energize and engage everyone and focus on moving the team forward, building trust and collaboration across department lines. Gregg can be reached at 301-564-0908 or at his website

If you missed Gregg Gregory’s Lab Manager Academy webinar “The Art of Collaboration and Teamwork in the Lab", visit to watch the archived video.

Published In

Maximizing ROI Magazine Issue Cover
Maximizing ROI

Published: January 1, 2011

Cover Story

Maximizing ROI

By using metrics effectively, laboratory managers can better focus their R&D efforts and be more effective in improving their firms' sales and profitability. This is essential, now more than ever, given the slow recovery from the "Great Recession."