When a professional sports team drafts athletes to join their team, there are multiple strategies. Some choose to draft the “best athlete” available, others draft a player based on perceived potential, others draft individuals that have a specific talent that will fill a specific need, and still, others make character a deliberate part of the equation. Clearly, there are approaches that incorporate more than one and even all of the aforementioned strategies. I was recently part of a selection board that had the responsibility of choosing the best candidate to fill a vital role on our team, which gave me the reason to really reflect upon the criteria that would optimize our selection.

As we reviewed the applicant pool, there was much talent from which to choose. As you would expect, there were individuals with varied experiences, education, expertise, and abilities. The process we used was as intrusive as the government hiring process allows. We talked about who was the most promising, who had the most impressive resume, who best fit the culture we were helping to develop, and who might fill our specific void the best. Though we were not above selecting the “best athlete”, that would only happen by coincidence, as our mandate was to select the individual who would best complement our team. Our team of today, and the team we were simultaneously building for tomorrow.

Navy promotion boards (at least until one reaches the rank of Admiral) are focused entirely on selecting the “best athlete” and for good reason. They are not selecting for a specific position, but for individuals who are best prepared to fill the collective void…specific assignment would be left to another process where particular attributes are a larger part of the criteria. When we are recognizing greatness across our team, we ought to recognize the “best athletes.” When we are picking a team from scratch, we ought to select the “best athlete.” But, when we are building a team, we must recognize that we are doing just that…building a team. And rarely is the best team made up of the “best athletes.”

I doubt that I have ever been the “best athlete” on any given field, and even if I was I knew my job was to play a specific role within the team. Even though we may stay on the same team, our teammates come and go. As the makeup of our team changes, how we execute our specific role ought to change (or at least be re-evaluated) along with it. Sometimes our team affords us the opportunity to move faster, while other times we are forced to slow our pace and pull them along. The point is to be aware and to acknowledge the specific role we play is often in response to what we assess the team needs from us.

As I join my new team, I am doing so with eyes wide open. I recognize that I was likely not the “best athlete” available, and though I have a vision for the role I will play, I acknowledge that my new “coach” has certain expectations. I also know that observing the strengths and personalities of my new teammates will be helpful as I execute my responsibilities, shape my specific role, and build a team that has recently experienced 75% turnover.

Life is a team sport and most of the time we are not starting from scratch. The “best athlete” isn’t always the best choice…

  • What is your criteria for selecting individuals to join your team (e.g. family, friends, co-workers, or fellow athletes)?
  • Can you think of examples where the “best athletes” formed a strong team?
  • Have you seen a team of lesser, but complementary “athletes” rise to the top?

And by the way, back to the hiring selection we made. We picked the right person for that specific position.