Dream Teams Are Just A Dream

Sep 09, 2014 1 Min Read

By Roshan Thiran

Goals, roles, processes and interpersonal relationships hold the key

IN July 2000, Florentino Perez was elected club president vowing to sign Luis Figo, the world’s best player at that time and to build Real Madrid Football Club into the Los Galacticos, the dream team of football. He quickly signed Figo, then Zinedine Zidane in 2001, Ronaldo a year later and David Beckham in 2003. He successfully assembled a dream team. All the best players in the world were courted and brought in to the magnificent Galacticos each year.

Unfortunately for Perez, this dream team never materialised. Barcelona, their fierce competitors, had other ideas. Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard inflicted defeat after defeat to the Los Galcticos including a 3-0 whipping at the Santiago Bernabeu, the sacred home of Real Madrid. On February 27, 2006, Florentino Perez resigned and the Real Madrid dream faded.

Perez did not give up on his Los Galacticos dream and returned as club president in 2009. He quickly signed the best in the world including Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi and a host of other best-in-class players. Three years in, his dream team has yet to fulfil their potential and his dream continues to be a dream.

We all love dream teams, especially in sports. The US 2004 Basketball dream team had all the stars of the NBA, yet finished third, losing even to Lithuania. At the World Baseball Classic, again the US fielded a dream team but lost to South Korea, Canada and Mexico. Brazil in 1982 had the best football team in the world, yet failed to win the FIFA world cup.

Why do dream teams never fulfill their potential? After the fall of the Berlin wall, with East and West Germany united, many predicted that Germany would emerge the greatest economic force. Yet, that dream unification never truly materialised the way predicted. Dream teams never seem to succeed.

Dream teams are put together to combine the knowledge and expertise of brilliant individuals. Yet, more often we find 3+3=5 whilst elsewhere in high performing teams 3+3=7. From our research, team failures usually has to do with one of the 4 key reasons below:

1. Unclear team goals

2. Poor role clarity

3. Lack of guiding processes

4. Deficiency of friendships and interpersonal relationships


While working in the US years ago, I witnessed a flock of geese flying south for the winter. You could clearly hear their voices and see them in a V formation heading south in a definite direction. They all seemed very clear about their goal and seem to have inbuilt inner GPS guiding them to their destination.

Goals are the inner GPS of a team, giving direction to both team and individual. This is the preliminary step for teams to establish where we are now and defining where we ought to go. Unclear goals are the number one issue of dysfunctional teams. If a goal isn’t clear or agreed by everyone on the team, your team will fail.

Goals energise a team and provide the foundations of a good team by establishing the core mission of the team and framing its purpose. Goals unite each individual’s personal effort with team objectives. Tom Shoes has become one of the fastest growing shoe companies. Their goal “one for one” creates energy not only with their internal team but also its customers. For every shoe sold, one is given free to the poor. When an organisation has purpose and its goal is clear, there is synergy of action.


In the 90s, McKinsey launched “the war for talent” study. The study concluded that the best companies had leaders obsessed with finding and hiring as many best talents as possible, advising leaders to “bet on the natural athletes, the ones with the strongest intrinsic skills.” It went further to advise that success required “a deep-seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors.”

One company that followed McKinsey’s “blueprint” to the tee was Enron. Enron was the business world’s version of a dream team. Former CEO, Jeff Skilling, only hired the very best MBA graduates and consultants and “stocked the company with talent.” But somehow the ENRON dream team blew up and the “best talent in the world” came to nought.

At the same time ENRON was blowing up, I worked at GE, where then CEO Jack Welch‘s policy was not about hiring talents from top elite business schools. GE looked for passionate leaders and insisted they “get their hands dirty” learning while doing. Yet, by 2001, the demand for non-elite GE talent was over-whelming and no one seemed to want to hire the “stars” of ENRON. GE did not hire “stars”. Their system developed stars. Unlike ENRON and its “star” hiring policy, GE’s system was its star. There was a clear process to develop people.

Interestingly, most people assume that people make organisations great. I would dare to say it may well be the other way around organisations make people great. And therein lays the next key great teams have processes and systems that enable their team to function at its full potential.

At ENRON, there were no systems. ENRON did have a performance management system based on core values, but moved their top talents so often to new roles, there were never opportunities to evaluate them properly. Sometimes even if an employee was rated 5 (top rating), they were often fired within six months, and there were many cases of lowly rated employees rising to new roles at ENRON.


Enron’s lack of role clarity contributed toits demise. In Gladwell’s Talent Myth, he shares a story about ENRON employee Louise Kitchin. A 29-year gas trader, she believed ENRON should develop an online-trading business so she worked in her spare time, leveraging 250 Enron employees to help her. Six months later, ENRON CEO Skilling found out, saying approvingly that “they have already purchased servers, started ripping apart the building and have started legal reviews in twenty-two countries by the time I heard about it. It is exactly the kind of behaviour that will continue to drive this company forward.”

Kitchin did not have the authorisations or knowledge to run EnronOnline. She wanted to do it, and at Enron, “stars” did whatever they wanted. With such a lack of clarity of roles, it is no wonder ENRON ultimately collapsed.

“Some of the worst teams I’ve ever seen have been those where everybody was a potential CEO,” says David Nadler. There is need for just one CEO. The same problem happens on a football field when everyone decides to play as a striker. 11 strikers with no goalkeeper or defenders will almost guarantee defeat, even if the 11 strikers you have are the best in the world.

One of my most favourite TV shows growing up began with these words:

“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team

The A-Team was great because everyone had clear roles a cigar-gnawing leader who was a master of disguise, a smooth-talking handsome con-man, a semi-lunatic ace pilot, a skilled mechanic with jewellery all over his body and a breath-taking van that could soar. Every member of the A-team had clear roles and played them commendably.

Interpersonal relationships

In The Apprentice, when teams are in the “board room” before Donald Trump comes to fire someone, everyone starts protecting themselves by pinning the blame on others. No one takes responsibility and instead sells each other out to survive. The rivalry, bickering and back-biting happens in teams where there are no friendships.

When relationships are competitive, trust is harder to develop. If people think their teammates are insincere, withholding information, suspicious of their motives, or just inept, nothing gets done and teams become dysfunctional. Interpersonal relationships and friendships help in establishing trust, open communication and feedback.

In most dream teams, everyone is distrustful from the start. Generally, there are no deep friendships. Worst still, most often the same team members are battling for the same career promotion or the leader’s affection. Trust takes time to build and is not helped when there is constant instability or huge egos all vying for the same attention.

The coach

Dream teams often blow up due to lack of goals, roles, processes and friendships. Real Madrid’s dream team has blown up countless times. But Perez may just have found the magical bullet he was looking for to transform his dream team in the form of Coach Jose Mourinho. Mourinho plays the role of a catalyst in dictating clear goals, warranting role clarity, building sound processes and ensuring friendship abound in the organisation.

The 1980 US Olympics hockey team that beat the Soviets to the gold medal was built unequivocally on an “anti-dream-team” philosophy. The fairy-tale story was documented into the movie Miracle where coach Herb Brooks drops many of the US’s best players and instead picks his team based on personal chemistry and friendships. When questioned why he dropped some top players and picked many unknowns, he responds, “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right players.” The coach is the final success element in the dream-team conundrum.

Final thoughts

Sociologist Elizabeth Cohen found that if kids are put into teams and told to solve a problem, the result is one kid dominating while others become totally disengaged. But if teachers take the time to establish norms goals, roles, and processes, “not only will (the children) behave according to the new norms, they will enforce rules on other group members. Even very young students can be heard lecturing other members on how they ought to be behaving.”

In today’s high-tech workplace, it is virtually impossible not to be part of a team. Projects are too big, complex and involved for a single person to do it all. Michael Schumacher didn’t win Formula One races through rugged individualism. He had a high performance team behind him. “Men work together,” wrote Robert Frost, “whether they work together or apart.” Great teamwork is an outcome. To ensure the team flourishes, you need to create the conditions.

Yet far too often, people find teamwork to be frustrating and exhausting. It is amazing how many dysfunctional teams we have running around trying to achieve something. If only we take the time to set goals, roles, processes and learn to build friendships with each other, we may just be able to develop a truly dream team. Go on, build your dream team!

(Photo Source: Vinoth)
Roshan Thiran is CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise passionate about transforming the nation through leadership development. For more information on leadership and programmes to help build effective dream teams in your organisation, email people@leaderonomics.comor login to www.leaderonomics.com
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