Hi everyone! I work for the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional association for HR. We have over 200,000 members. Here is an article that appeared in our online news yesterday! Enjoy!
4/12/06 7:45 AM
Magical history tour: The Beatles as the ultimate team
By Steve Bates
Andrew Sobel, consultant, author and guitarist, like many in the baby boom generation, holds fond memories of Beatlemania, the rage that swept the United States in 1964 after four plucky lads from Liverpool hit this nation’s airwaves and played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” But what he recalls most is not the hair-shaking and the mediocre lyrics like “I want to hold your hand” and “yeah, yeah, yeah.” It’s not even the screaming teenage girls.
It’s the teamwork.
In a strategy+business magazine
article titled “The Beatles Principles,” Sobel makes the case that the group was not just the best band of our time, it was also “the most successful team of our time,” surpassing any collection of Fortune
500 go-getters assembled to date. “The Beatles were great artists and entertainers,” he wrote, “but in many respects they were four ordinary guys who, as a team, found a way to achieve extraordinary artistic and financial success and have a great time together while doing it.
“Every business team can learn from their story.”
Even the television stage setup from the band’s first Ed Sullivan appearance, on Feb. 9, 1964, illustrates Sobel’s theme: Ringo Starr’s drum kit was elevated above the stage, which at the time was an unusual arrangement. The result was that he was “as much the center of attention as the other three Beatles.” (Note to young readers: Their names were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. And they were pretty good, too.)
“It’s an ensemble of four equal players, not a flamboyant lead singer with his backing musicians,” said Sobel. “They’re all smiling. They’re having the time of their lives. If there ever was an antidote to the malaise of ‘grinding it out mechanically,’ it was visible on the stage that night.”
Don’t focus too much on the egos, the drugs, the controversies and the fact that their time in the international spotlight lasted less than a decade, said Sobel. Look at how they accomplished what they did, despite all the distractions that could have torn apart a much less functional team far sooner.
“The Beatles are a noteworthy example because the whole of their accomplishment was so much greater than the sum of their parts,” Sobel wrote. “The reasons are evident in the way they worked together as a team.” They collaborated on songs and on playing technique. They came up with different approaches to defuse the tensions among them.
“The magic was far more than just the music,” he observed. Sobel has identified four strategies—he calls them “the Beatles Principles”—that any business team can use to “recreate a bit of the Fab Four’s juju.” They are:
- • Invest in and build face time between team members long before they are required to appear together.
• Help team members become brands-within-a-brand by giving them a song—an idea or proposal—that will help them to shine.
• Evolve your “songs” and bring the same level of ideas, perspectives, excitement and enthusiasm to your hundredth meeting with a client that you brought to the first.
• Put exceedingly diverse professionals on the same team; mix specialists with generalists; and foster friendly competition to produce the best ideas.
We can work it out
“The secret to a lot of the creativity is that they were radically different individuals,” Sobel told HR News
. As youths they did have some things in common: a love of rock ‘n’ roll, the desire to succeed. They even had a mission statement, though perhaps it wasn’t spelled out as such: to avoid day jobs and meet lots of girls.
That’s what pulled them together, said Sobel. What allowed or forced them to bond was being placed in a crucible. In the early 1960s, when the band didn’t play all that well and wasn’t making much money, they went to Hamburg, Germany, performing through the evening and half the night, six nights a week, in seedy clubs with poor sound systems and drunks fighting with each other—and occasionally with the band.
“It was that face time that made them great friends” and helped them when they leapt onto the world stage. They started writing songs together, adding bits to each other’s tunes and lyrics. McCartney’s smooth, bubbly personality was offset by Lennon’s hard-edged, combative nature. They found rivalry, balance, synergy.
“In real organizations, you need people with very different temperaments and to put them through a crucible,” said Sobel. “That’s not just sitting in a room and drinking coffee. That’s not sending everyone to a rope course. It’s deadlines and challenges.”
In the business world, “we have almost forgotten about the importance of face time in building familiarity and mutual trust—the requisites for teaming seamlessly under pressure.”
The next issue typically becomes: How do you keep all the egos in check? “John and Paul wrote a song for Ringo (to sing) on every album,” said Sobel. And eventually George Harrison contributed some notable songs, such as “Something.”
With a little help from my friends
Despite their fame and fortune, the Beatles were not above coaching. Brian Epstein, the frenetic manager who won them a record contract after being turned down initially by every label in the United Kingdom, crafted the group’s image, noted Sobel. George Martin, the statesmanlike producer who didn’t think much of their music at first but was impressed by the Beatles’ intensity and personalities, gave them a shot and then polished their output. Each was “more than a mentor or coach; they were almost like their advocates.”
The Beatles are a particularly good example of a brand within a brand, according to Sobel. “Individually they became very well known,” he noted. “Externally and internally, you need a personal brand—something you’re known for in the marketplace, such as speaking at conferences. This is particularly important in a big company like IBM.”
Brands can be “a substitute for trust,” said Sobel. In the 21st century, the business world is “a low-trust environment.” People are hesitant to trust government, business leaders, even colleagues. But building an identity or reputation for expertise can cut through that barrier. “The Beatles did that fantastically well. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a sales rep or an HR professional.”
One of the reasons why the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership worked so well was that early on the two men agreed to split royalties 50-50 on every song, no matter who wrote most or all of it. As a result, said Sobel, “They focused on writing the best songs they could.” Today, “you need an equal credit environment for teams.”
“The most effective teams combine specialists and generalists,” he continued. “The Beatles were very much this mixture. Paul and John were deep generalists”—focusing on the big picture of who and what they were and wanted to accomplish. George and Ringo were classic specialists, with Harrison investigating Eastern instruments and Ringo developing his own style and providing a steady back beat to keep the group anchored.
“They got that mix right,” said Sobel. “Sprinkle your teams of branded experts with a few deep generalists and the result will be powerful.”
Let it be
Despite all their teamwork, the Beatles broke up, bitterly. Many blame John’s girlfriend, avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, though biographers have established that when Lennon left the Beatles he was crippled by personal relationship problems, by use of heroin, and by a fear of becoming yet another over-the-hill musician playing mostly for the money.
No team lasts forever in business, either, Sobel said. Nor should it. The point, he concluded, is that certain principles can maximize the value of teams to participants and to their organizations.
“We cannot imitate the Beatles’ native genius as songwriters and musicians, but we can borrow from other parts of their success and apply what we’ve learned,” he wrote in his article.
“The Beatles remind us that the essence of any successful organization is small teams of individuals who do things they love, have fun together and feel part of a greater whole while maintaining their individual identities.”
Steve Bates is managing editor of
HR News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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