This past week, Sean McDermott was fired as Defensive Coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles football team. In the aftermath, a debate arose in the media about whether it’s more important to have great players (around whom you build an effective system) or a great system (into which you can plug good players without needing superstars).
The “systems” defenders say the great system matters most because into that system even mediocre players will be effective.
The “players” proponents say you start with highly talented players and adapt the system to exploit those gifts.
Which do you believe?
It’s good to know where you stand because this debate also comes up in business when something major goes wrong. And although it’s easier to put things into categories — like “systems” or “players” — those categories don’t take into account the subtleties of real situations.
For example, when I was marketing director for all of the Wendy’s franchises in South Jersey, I received a complaint from a customer who had discovered a fly in her Diet Coke. She brought the soda to the store manager who looked in at the fly, then looked at her and said, “Lady, it’s summertime. There’s flies. What do you want me to do?” She didn’t like how he handled the situation and her complaint eventually wound up on my desk.
If you were that manager’s supervisor, what would you ask first? Those questions say a lot about how you think and will also determine the category of answers you’ll get.
Focus just on how they keep flies out of that restaurant, and you might come up with one set of solutions. If, instead, you looked just at the training of that manager, you might decide something completely different.
My own experience is that searching for root causes and solutions is better done by a team than by one person. And the best teams are comprised of a variety of thinking styles. Mix “fact finders” with people who have a more intuitive feel for things. Mix pragmatists with those who take feelings into account, as well. Finally, invite the people at the heart of the problem to tell you what they think caused it – they often have valuable insights to add.
Using a team to evaluate a problem helps you avoid the mistake of emphasizing just one point of view and usually leads to a more useful set of ideas that touch on systems as well as people.
Even after firing someone (which suggests the person was the problem, not the system) smart companies take the opportunity to look at systems, as well. And the new hire – particularly at the executive level – often has the opportunity to make system changes they feel are needed.
So what I do about the fly in the soda?
I visited the manager the next day. We sat down at a table. He looked at me and said, “Dave, it’s summertime. There’s flies. What do you want me to do?”
David A. Weiman, Psy.D.
Psychologist and Executive Coach
My leadership blog: http://www.leadershipupdate.blogspot.com