Are People More Important than Organizations?

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Recently, I attended a rather insightful symposium where speakers included a lot of our industry’s best people managers. And they started a debate which roused us all: are people more important or are organizations more important?

Naturally, everyone’s first instinct was to side with people. People make organizations after all. What good is a company’s strategy, goals, mission and vision if there is no one to actualize it? No one to do the day to day work that would ultimately drive a company to its objectives?

The speaker listened to our input with great interest and did not disagree. Yes, people make organizations that much is true. But he had a knowing look on his face which led me to believe that he has heard all these rebuttals before. They were after all instantaneous rebuttals, one that we spoke off the tops of our heads. The speaker had instead done some deep thinking on it and he expressed his side of the argument with an excellent example

The NBA Dream Team

When the 1988 Olympics held in Seoul ended sour for the American basketball team, there was an appeal for professionals to be allowed to participate. When the appeal was granted, the NBA decided to put together the greatest basketball team the world has even seen. The best players from individual teams were selected to create an all-star team. Everyone, who would go onto become Hall of Famers and quite simply, basketball legends were on it. Michael from the Chicago Bulls, Magic Johnson from the Lakers, Larry Bird of the Celtics, Charles Barkeley of the 76ers… you name a basketball legend and the were on the team. And at the time, all these basketball legends were at their very prime. Throw in Chuck Daily as the coach, and it’s no wonder this was named the “Dream Team”.

This was the handcrafted team created to bring home the gold at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A Surprising Turn of Events

Can you imagine the caliber and talent of a team that has Jordan and Bird playing together? Everyone’s money was on them. Everyone on this team was the best player on their individual teams. They were loved by the people and were the darlings of the sponsors. So when the Gods of NBA would face off against a college team, the odds seem automatically against the junior team, right?

Wrong.

In a surprising turn of events, the college team destroyed the Dream Team in the playoffs with the final score being Collegians 62, Dream Team 54.

So, what caused this failure?

Voices Need to Harmonize

Imagine the best singer in the world. Now imagine another singer. And another. Now individually, they could be the best singers that the world has ever heard. However, ask them to record a track together, and they might not be able to harmonize and showcase their own vocal prowess at the same time.

That is what happened with the Dream Team.

While they were amazing in their respective teams, they simply could not work together. They did not know how to play with each other. They stars of NBA, the sponsor’s darlings, the greatest players that basketball has ever had… they lost to a bunch of college kids because they didn’t know how to work together.

Lesson Learnt

And so the speaker ended this story with a very simple conclusion: people are important, but organizations are also important.

Yes, people make organizations. But these people’s voices need to harmonize. In that moment against the college team, the people were important; they were the best players in the world. But the organization, namely the Dream Team did not work. Of course they found their harmony later on and went onto become Gold Medalists at the Olympics. They fulfilled the purpose they were created for.

Take some time and think about how you can use this brain teaser in your own company. And let me know in the comments below what you come up with!

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