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Brain circuits

Why every team needs a Ringo

Published 17 March 2022 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

Team performance can often be the underlying cause of success or failure within a business unit. It’s not just the bottom line that is affected by a team’s dynamics either. Overall morale, employee retention and corporate culture are heavily influenced by the way an organization’s teams are formed and collaborate. 

Top teams don’t happen by accident. There are certain factors that high-performance teams have in common, and leaders have tools they can use to affect the quality of collaboration within the group. When looking for examples of such teams, executives need to look no further than the Beatles – four dynamite individuals whose success in innovating offers much needed inspiration.   

 What can executives learn from the Beatles? 

  1. Set a high bar for chemistry: Aim for fireworks and magic in a bottle. Unfortunately, when recruiting members for their team, too many executives suffer from an excessive focus on functional competence at the expense of team complementarity. In an increasingly transdisciplinary world where employees are expected to move across organizational business units, this obsession with functional expertise will be outdated. And while it is certainly relevant, it is hardly the best predictor for team performance. A short listen to a Beatles’ live music performance will quicky demonstrate that individually, they were not the most technically competent This is best illustrated by the long-standing critique of Ringo’s unskilled drumming. Yet, John, Paul, and George knew exactly how Ringo’s distinctive rhythm and drumming could turn a song from great to iconic. They called him a “song-serving drummer” – a guy who “sits in the song” and then plays appropriately for this song. Many who have heard the opening beat to “Come together” will agree that it is ingenious in its innovative simplicity. More than fifty years after it was composed, people still instantly recognize the beat. 

 

  1. Provide visibility & inclusion of every team member: In each team, there are roles that by nature are more visible, even glamorous, than others. And while we cannot deny the allure of the lead singer role, teams today can learn from one of The Beatles’ deliberate choices as a band. Early on, they decided that they were not going to be a band with a lead singer in the front and some drummer in the back. Instead, fans saw a cohesive group, an ensemble of four equal players. They were the Fabulous 4. To achieve this visual cohesion, John, Paul, and George all stood in the front, while Ringo was physically elevated on the stage. Raising the drum kit was an unusual arrangement at the time – he was as much at the center of attention as the other three Beatles. In fact, The Beatles even included in their venue contracts a requirement to provide a special drumming platform for Ringo.

 

  1. Address, don’t suppress: This is a lesson that executives can learn from the Beatle’s reason for falling apart as a team. They came together, innovated, and fail to sustain the teamship. Tensions rose to the point of becoming insurmountable, and individual members began to emotionally or quite literally check out. When left unaddressed, minor tensions amplify over time, and it becomes ever more difficult to have the difficult conversations. So leaders must pay special attention to early warning signals and tensions, and ask whether they are proactively addressing (rather than suppressing) the issue and team emotions at hand. 

 

 

 

Authors

Ina Toegel - IMD Professor

Ina Toegel

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD

Ina Toegel’s research focuses on team dynamics, organizational change management, top management teams during corporate renewal, and founder influence. She directs the Teams Reimagined program which supports executives in achieving team flow and transforming a group of individuals into a high-performing dream team.

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