“Raise the Bar” or “Increase Team Capability”?

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman at a conference, where he said they hired “to raise the bar”. I asked him what he meant by that. He started discussing the mean of the capability in the team.

Well, if you've hired for zero diversity, you might be able to discuss the team's mean. And, if you haven't thought about diversity of personality or experience, you might be in that position. I don't know how to assess the team's mean, so here are ways to think about this idea.

Consider reframing the idea of “raising the bar.” I find that assumption about the team's mean demeaning to the people who already work with you. (What are these people? Chopped liver?) Yes, I do want to work with people who can teach me something–that's exciting. I don't want to always be the senior person who knows how to do everything without learning anything new. So instead of thinking of “raising the bar” consider a reframe to “increase the team's capability.” Now you are open to alternative kinds of experience, diversity that can increase the team's capability.

If you only look for senior people who've done the same kind of thing you have, you may get the people you want. But instead of pigeon-holing people, consider experience diversity to increase team capability. You are likely to have more great candidates, and if they can learn your problem and solution domain, you can increase your team's capabilities.

5 thoughts on ““Raise the Bar” or “Increase Team Capability”?”

  1. “Raising the bar” sounds like a platitude that some management junkie spouts but doesn’t really mean anything. Like you said, it implies that the original hires were mistakes when, for some reason or other, they decided to “settle”.

    Furthermore, if they truly did that, every new hire would have to be paid more than an existing hire. I’m sure that goes over well. Unless he’s not telling the truth, which is probably more likely.

    Always hiring senior is a sure-fire way to do things the way they’ve always been done.

  2. This reminds of the old joke “2 men walked into a bar. The 3rd one ducked.” I think that’s what happens when you focus on “raising the bar.” People focus on the bar, not necessarily the work.

    As an individual, one of the keys to career mastery is to know your strengths as an individual and to focus on leveraging those. Know what you can do, and then you can compensate for that stuff that isn’t a strength. The same thing is true for teams, for organizations. You need to know the strengths of your team – not the mean, but the total of yoiur capabilities. Then you can hire to increase the team capability (or organization capability) as you need to. And you can adapt as the team changes or as your needs change. Of course, this means that you also need to know the strengths of the individuals on your team, and how to help them leverage those.

    You are so right. I mean, do I really want a team of “me’s” – good at what I’m already good at, and bad at what I’m already bad at? How does that help me, or my organization?

  3. Good point, Johanna. A few years ago I was talking to a manager about ‘mentoring.’ He had a complex documented plan for mentoring: The juniors would be mentored by associates, who would be mentored by seniors, who are mentored by leads, who are mentored by supervisors, who, in turn, he would mentor. A big, one way arrow. Nice and one-dimensional.

    Meanwhile, we had a junior with far more people skills than me (a senior), and most of the ‘do-ers’ had more technical skills than the managers. It wouldn’t be hard for me to come up with this dimensions: People Skills, Tech Skills, and *cough* testing skills. Even tech skills could break down into sysadmin, web, database, and straight programming skills.

    So really, we should be looking for opportunities to learn from each other, regardless of title.

    He didn’t really appreciate that comment. 🙂

    Anyway, I think I see what you’re getting at in your blog post, and /I/ Agree. 🙂

  4. Good post, and I agree. I’ve not come across anyone who’s used the term “raising the bar” as bluntly as that, but I’ve often come across that sort of one-dimensional view of people’s abilities, and the experience that a team needs. Experience that doesn’t fit the presumption of what the team profile “ought” to look like isn’t understood, isn’t valued and is therefore dismissed. The intention isn’t to create a team of clones with varying levels of maturity, but I think there’s a danger of that.

  5. Thanks for an important post, Johanna. I guess it’s a common misunderstanding that a group’s performance equals the sum of the individual contributions. Late systems thinker and management consultant Russell Ackoff would have reminded us that the whole is more than the sum of the parts – it is the product of their interactions.

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