March 15, 2019

What Kind of Team Are You Building?

By David Saxe

In the early 2000’s, there was a nice little college football rivalry between Texas A&M and the University of Texas. A&M had just hired a “sure-thing” coach in Dennis Franchione who had successful stops at both TCU and Alabama. UT had a guy named Mack Brown. Now I don’t know either of these guys, but as a lover of college football, I did observe this: Fran and Mack had fundamentally opposite ideas on how to build a team. Fran had a system. It was marked by positions, not players. He leveraged his roster to fit his system. He had one of the highest recruited quarterbacks to ever come through A&M and tried to turn him into an option QB. Why? Because, philosophically, Fran believed the strength of the system superseded the strength of any individual player.

Mack, on the other hand, recruited the best players he could find. The best athletes in the state. When he got them to campus, he built the system around the talents of the players. He had a pretty unique talent in a guy named Vince Young. Then he had a guy named Colt McCoy. Completely different players, and guess what? Mack ran completely different systems with each one of them at QB, changing the system year over year. He wanted the best talent and had the flexibility to tweak the system to maximize the talent of those players.

Whether building an agency team or an in-house team, I’d encourage you to know what type of coach you are and what type of team you want to build. The vast majority of us have a system, and we recruit the players that fit in our system. Symptoms of this if you can’t self-identify:

  1. Incredibly detailed job descriptions
  2. When one person leaves, you try to find a carbon copy
  3. You despise reorganization
  4. “Over-promotion” is a challenge you’ve faced

On the other hand, if your team-building strategy is to recruit the best talent on the market, and build the system around their talent, these will be some byproducts:

  1. You may reorganize your structure every year
  2. You make room for players to change positions entirely based on their unique growth and interests (you don’t say things like “well, we hired you to do this.”)
  3. When you have a unique talent that wants to join your team, you’re energized by the process of creating space for them

I’m not suggesting one is right and one is wrong, but I am suggesting you know which side of the fence you fall on and that your strategy back up your commitments. ELL is committed to (1) doing the best creative in our markets and (2) being a blast to work with. We simply can’t claim (or even pursue) the best creative work in our markets if we don’t have the best team.

We have shifted our org structure twice in the last 6 months. Why? Because our talent shifts. Passions change. We try people out in certain positions, give them an opportunity, and if they fail, we find the right place for them rather than letting them go. If we’ve got a mind-blowing designer, bump them to a management position, then find they hate management and suck at it, the worst thing a shop with our commitments could do is lose that designer. That’s a net loss.

We get the best talent possible. And we flex the system to fit (and maximize) the talent. If that’s the side of the fence you fall on, better get comfortable with change.

During their overlap years at A&M and UT, Fran went 32-28 and Mack went 44-7 with a National Championship. Ya know, for what it’s worth.