Individual Talent is Overrated in the Team Building Process

With 6:45 left in the fourth quarter of the Eastern Conference Finals, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum caught the ball at the top of arc. He took four steps, as the Celtics were down 71-67 to the Cavaliers, and rose up and dunked over LeBron James.

The TD Garden went nuts — as well as my living room 1,614 miles away. Moments after this iconic moment, Tatum bumped LeBron with his chest … and it was on. Every Celtics fans could sense that this Game 7 would end with a celebration in Boston.

But, in typical LeBron fashion he ended the game scoring 35 points and the Cavs beat the Celtics 87-79. The next day however provided a silver lining for Celtics fans.

The Celtics were a few minutes away from playing in the NBA Finals. They accomplished this without their two best players — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — who had season ending injuries. Many believed the Celtics could win an NBA Championship the next year.

The same Celtics team came back for the 2018-2019 season paired with the addition of a healthy Irving and Hayward. Expectations were high! So high that in my years of being a Celtics fan this hype was second only to the 2007-2008 season that ended in Banner 17.

Yet, things shifted ever so quickly. Twenty games into the 2018-2019 season the Celtics were 10-10. They played like they hated each other. They had no chemistry. They had no heart. The most disappointing Celtics season in my lifetime ended with an early playoff exit.

On paper, this team was as talented as any team in the league. They were the most talented Celtics team since 2007-2008, but their talent alone could not carry them. They had a team of 15 individuals who were great basketball players, but as a team they struggled to function correctly with one another.

Ultimately, a team comprised of talented individuals failed as a unit.

In organizations we lead or are a part of, the same can be true. There’s a desire to collect the most talented or most experienced individuals.

Within the Local Church, this may look like we’re trying to find the best singer to be the Worship Pastor. We look for the best communicator to be the Pastor. We look for the most personable or charismatic person to lead students or kids.

While talent and experience are desired traits in building personnel for a team — they should not be our main identifiers (especially within the Church). In building a team there are three qualities each individual must have within their DNA — qualities the Celtics did not possess.


Those young players who led the injury-riddled Celtics to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals all had reduced roles in the 2018-2019 season. With a healthy roster this season, some failed to embrace the role of sacrificing for the team. They thought they could be elite players on another team, yet they were backups on this team.

For a team to be successful, it takes complete sacrifice. This has to be seen through all the team members. As a team member, this means you willingly give up your future (dreams or desires) for the present. You learn to embrace your role and excel at it.

The most influential leaders have all sacrificed.


Most of the time we assume people are determined. We assume people want to grow and improve. As idealistic as this sounds, it’s not always reality.

Graduating college takes determination. Often times you’ll see students sacrifice (time and finances) while being dead-set on finishing their program. But, as they get their first or second job you’ll notice these once determined individuals are now complacent. They were determined for a season.

Athletes are no different. Those select few that get drafted into professional sports spend their entire life working toward that moment. However, as soon as they sign their life-changing contract while fulfilling their dream — they stop moving forward. Their determination is gone and they are job-less a couple years later.

There are some team members we’ll see that have (literally) God-given talent. They will be heavily pursued by other organizations, yet their talent is only matched by their determination. How will they develop in three or five years?

Talent is only as good as the determination behind it.

Give me the person who progresses year over year and is constantly getting better. You can build an elite team with those individuals!


During the interview and hiring process of a new Lead Pastor, one church viewed preaching as the major deciding factor in the candidates. This hiring board never dove into other leadership traits of prospective hires. On one Sunday they heard a candidate preach. He was hired shortly after.

The problem with this line of thinking is that the hiring board wanted one excellent trait. An under appreciated quality for team members is versatility — the ability to adapt to different functions and/or different roles.

In keeping with the sports analogy, let’s look to Julian Edelman. Edelman was a college quarterback who the Patriots shifted to a wide receiver. In his first fourth years, Edelman’s main job was on special teams and the scout teams. In his fifth year, Edelman became a primary slot (inside) receiver. Since then, Edelman plays three different receiver positions, he’s a punt returner, and he even throws the ball from time-to-time.

Edelman has taken less money to be a part of the Patriots for his entire career — that’s called sacrifice. He has improved his ability every year and his stats prove it (determination), and he can do various things for the team (versatility).

(Note: the Patriots finally bumped Edelman’s pay last week. Sacrifice, determination and versatility pays off — literally!)

That’s the type of team member you want. The team member that doesn’t excel at just one thing. You want a team member that has the ability to adapt and still be just as effective.

For these three qualities to be harnessed effectively they all must complement each other, which leads us to the main quality of a team member — The ability to be committed to the system (or mission).

These qualities are invaluable if they aren’t in operation within the system (or mission) of the organization. However, if we have a team full of individuals willing to sacrifice, who are determined to get better, and have versatility that covers many areas, we have a successful blueprint to win.

It's the difference in the 2017-2018 Celtics and the 2018-2019 Celtics. It’s the difference between your organization simply existing or thriving. It’s the difference between a selfish team or one that gives everything for one another and their team.

What qualities do you look for in a member of your team?

Photo: Courtesy of Sports Illustrated