Should You be Hiring “Wrestlers”?

Most businesses seem to be organized in a traditional pyramid hierarchy like a football team.  In this team model, those at the top of the pyramid (coach/CEO) attempt to drive outcomes by “calling the plays” and expecting that the rest of the team follows a formal playbook.  This model has served the business world well by certain organizational measures, however, such organizations also may suffer when management from a distance confounds effective daily operations.

Top-down organizations are by no means the only way to achieve success as demonstrated by companies such as Semco where empowered teams can move forward confidently and independently.  Approaches such as Dynamic Governance facilitate the crafting of policy through inclusive decision-making that links team objectives to broad goals of the firm.  Teams are then permitted to achieve results through self-organization and management on a day-to-day basis without seeking or requiring further involvement from the executive level while observing policy that they helped formulate.

If a traditional business organization is rightly analogous to a football team, then perhaps the ancient sport of wrestling provides a different viewpoint that can create a business edge. Consider some key differences in perspective that a wrestling team model offers:

Command & Control
The coach determines the plays that are executed by the quarterback through other team members. The options are taken from a formal playbook on which the team drills.
The coach yells direction from the bench but this act is mostly ceremonial.  There is no playbook; the objective is clear – win.  The wrestler makes moment-by-moment decisions himself, dynamically constructing tactics from a core set of skills while observing the rules of the sport.
Role-based Specialists
Numerous specialists who have defined roles. The center isn’t going to run the ball; the quarterback isn’t going to play defensive lineman.
Each wrestler drills for proficiency in both offensive and defensive action, take-downs and reversals.
An hour’s worth of play time that can take 2-3 times that amount of time in a pro game: run a play, huddle, call a time-out, switch out a player, run a play…
Seven minutes of ceaseless, focused activity per collegiate wrestler with no time-outs (except for injury).  Time is of the essence and no time is wasted on anything unrelated to achieving the objective of a win.
Team Dependent
Fatigued teammates are switched out, ball-handlers are defended by others, defenders pile on ball-handlers.
Each wrestler is an army-of-one; no one is coming to help.
Small Successes Build to Wins
Every point builds to a win, touch-down by touch-down, field goal by field goal.  If the team falls too far behind as the game time runs out, however, then the outcome is an inevitable loss.
Success & Failure is Never Inevitable
Points count and a match will be won by the wrestler with the higher number of points – unless his opponent manages an overwhelming fall.  Regardless of the past success as measured by points, a wrestler can reverse the trend and win, even before the allowable match time expires.  He can also lose as quickly if he doesn’t remain vigilant.
Although no individual member can win or lose the game some, like the quarterback or a receiver, can receive special credit (for wins) and special blame (for loses).
Each wrestler’s win or loss contributes to the team’s win or loss, but each wrestler also personally and clearly wins or loses due solely to his own ability.

More on Specialization

Isn’t conventional command & control team design with specialists still effective and necessary?  Just as the quarterback doesn’t play in the defensive lineman position, you certainly wouldn’t want your lawyers working as engineers or your sales teams on the shipping/receiving dock.  True, but the wrestling model addresses this specialist question by its use of weight class.

Wrestlers are matched to their opponents by their weight: collegiate wrestling has ten weight classes (125 lbs, 133 lbs…285 lbs).  These weight classes can be viewed as specialization: your 125 lb wrestler represents Sales; your 285 lb wrestler represents Operations.  You certainly wouldn’t put your lightweight against their heavyweight.  And while differently sized wrestlers may move differently or rely upon certain wrestling techniques, their core skills are common (e.g. single-leg take-down, half nelson).

In the business world, examples of common core skills would include critical and systems thinking, and formal consensus decision-making. Through training in these core skills, all of your team members have important and common skills while still permitting a specialist focus.  By adopting this wrestler’s viewpoint team members can operate within their specialization “class” while using their broad systems awareness to help avoid unwanted outcomes and to exploit leverage points that might otherwise be missed.

So can the wrestling team model offer benefits within a traditionally organized firm? And can seeking out employees with a “wrestler’s outlook” help energize a business by building teams that can operate more independently while achieving corporate goals?

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