The Importance Of A Team

3 Hats

You need a team effort to win, and mathematicians are proving that the team effort is your best chance of winning.

Quadzilla puts a little black hat / white hat terminology on a unique problem reported by Sara Robinson that mathematicians and coders are trying to figure out. It’s called the hat problem and was created by Dr. Todd Ebert of California State University.

And it works like this …

The Hat Problem

You put three players in a room and you put a red or a blue hat on each person’s head. The color of each hat is determined by a coin toss, and the outcome of one coin toss has no effect on the others. Each person can see the other players’ hats but not their own.

Other than a initial strategy session before the game begins, no communication of any sort is allowed. Once everyone has had a chance to look at the other hats, the players must simultaneously guess the color of their own hats or pass. And the group shares a million dollar prize if at least one player guesses correctly and no one guesses incorrectly.

Can They Win?

Mathematically, they have a 75% chance of winning if every player passes unless they see two hat of the same color and guess the opposite color for their own. If you play the same game with 15 people, a strategy can be devised where the team wins 15 out of 16 times. Which is almost 94% of the time. Not perfect, but pretty good odds.

Lets Segueway This Into Sports

From ’76 to ’79, the Montreal Canadiens won the the Stanley Cup four times in a row. From ’80 to ’83, the New York Islanders won it all four times and then the Edmonton Oilers had their famous run where they won it five out of the next seven years. Since then there’s the odd team that has won the cup two years in a row, but for the most part it’s been in the hands of a lot of different teams.

The reasons for who wins and who doesn’t are always highly debated, but lets look at a couple facts:

  1. Salaries and endorsement deals have risen significantly since that golden era. Both these things reward individuals, not teams.
  2. Great players don’t stay with a team as long as they used to … see fact one.

So, today in sports, what you see is that you can build an amazing team, but next year you might lose some of the members of that team. Or someone else might come along and build a better team. Or both. Mathematically and statistically, a strong team always has a better chance of winning.

And the biggest hurdle every team faces, is sticking together.

11 thoughts on “The Importance Of A Team”

  1. Salaries and endorsements should reward the team and not the individual entirely since any achievement is a team effort. A few individuals can be instrumental in a teams performance, joining a new team also takes some time to start feeling a part of the new family and start understanding each other. So I feel that if benefits are aimed at the team as a whole and not individuals, teams would remain teams for longer and perform better as well.

    Take care and cheers.

  2. Hey Robin,

    That’s a great solution to a tough problem. I don’t know if it stops the high calibre talent leakage … but if everybody did this then it would slow it down quite a bit I think. This is one idea around salary caps …

    The best of the best can take advantage of endorsements, but their personal success is dependent somewhat on the performance of the whole team, and there’s no financial benefit to leaving a great team for a higher salary because of the cap.

    It’s more difficult to apply this model to business, but probably not impossible with some creativity.

  3. Look at the Yankees..They’ve spent hundreds of millions of more dollars on “great” players and haven’t won a world series with that lineup yet! I agree, the higher salaries are benefiting the individuals and not the team as a whole… 🙁

    WIth a team, you need to make sure everyone bonds and can work together. With 1 bad apple in the bunch, the “team” atmosphere can be ruined.


  4. You’re exactly right Gregg,

    A team is not just a collection of the “greatest” people, it’s a collection of the greatest people that complement each other.

  5. I wonder.

    Perhaps stable teams are really a thing of the past and the central function of a leader may be to be able to bring out the best of what you have while you have it as you recognize things might change quickly. Hence the need to wear a rainbow of hats!

    I crave stability and permanence but perhaps the leader of today must embrace impermanence, instability, uncertainty, and complexity.

    I have always been attracted to Alan Watts Zen quote: If you make where you are going more important than where you are there may be no point in going.

    Perhaps the strength of the team is acceptance of what you have while you have it. I loved John Wooden’s line: Don’t let what you cannot do intefer with what you can.

    Okay, I went off on a few tangents here but perhaps leaders of today must work with tangents rather than certainty.

    Thank you so much for a post that really got me thinking.

    David Zinger

  6. Hi David,

    Very thought provoking comments. The Alan Watts Zen quote seemed very counterintiutive at first (which always makes me look at something closer) …

    if you’re living in the moment and appreciating what you’ve got right now, then you’ve got true stability. When the future shows up, you’re still in the moment when it arrives. And maybe this is the mindest that can keep a team together and make big things happen “as a team” because they’re focusing on what they’re doing today. Not how they’re going to leverage it as indiviuals tomorrow.

    I agree, change happens. It has too. What I’m never jazzed about is short term thinking. The bigger issue is when people or companies have one goal: to spin a quick buck … teams suffer. Integrity suffers. The environment, the quality of a product, relationships, and everything that we “say” is important to us suffers with short term thinking.

    Thanks for making me think!

  7. Another interesting article. Team working is so important; your example of the Stanley Cup teams really helps bring things into perspective.

    No individual is better than the team as a whole – more people could do with remembering that!

    – Martin Reed

  8. Hey Martin,

    The hockey analogy is good because it shows how the shift in sports has gone from an emphasis on teams to individuals over the last 30 years. And the outcome of that … which is that even a great team has trouble sticking together to dominate the top position for several years in a row.

  9. Good example, Shane.

    One of the fundamentals of group dynamics is this: every time one individual leaves or one individual enters a group, it has to “re-group” before it can get back to a high level of performance. Groups–and teams–operate off of an equilibrium that develops over time. Change the equilibrium, you change the performance.

    Individuals coming and going may add individual performance in a specific way–but that doesn’t automatically equate with better team performance.

  10. Steve,

    Thanks for bringing your expertise to the discussion. It’s a great point you make. Every time you change some members of a team (even when you bring in better skilled indiviuals), there’s a settling period.

    The team has to learn how to be a team again.

    And a lot of times when you throw a bunch of superstars together they have a harder time gelling as a team because they’re all so driven to outperform each other.

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