The Big Life: Building A Team Of Rivals
Bankers embrace at the end of their bout at a charity match during the Hedge Fund Fight Nite 2016 in Hong Kong. (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

The Big Life: Building A Team Of Rivals

The Big Life is a podcast that discusses leadership – of self and others.

There are two kinds of companies you can build—a baby and a dwarf, Manish Sabharwal says. “Both are small, but the baby is going to grow. All the dwarfs I've studied lacked cognitive diversity, lacked a team of rivals, lacked a culture of honesty and they told themselves lies—the most dangerous ones are the ones you tell yourself.”

We’re discussing collaboration—one of the three C’s that Saurabh Mukherjea and Anupam Gupta list as desirable behaviours in their new book The Victory Project. The other two being clutter (getting rid of it) and creativity.

Collaboration is hardwired into humans, the two authors write—after all we are social animals. The power of teamwork is an an oft-repeated cliché when understanding the success of individuals or companies. But how do you create the perfect team?

The authors turn to the Marwari community as a case study of durable collaboration. There are only 90 lakh Marwaris in India and yet the community has been spectacularly successful because they recognised the importance of

  • alignment of interests

  • complementarity of skill sets

  • monitoring of performance

  • power of cooperation/networking

Of course, diversity is a well-recognised element of successful teams. Sabharwal, co-founder and chairman of TeamLease Services Ltd., a human resource services company, takes that one step further. Building a team of rivals.

The phrase is drawn from a book on Abraham Lincoln by renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin - Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Goodwin documents how President Lincoln included in his cabinet the three men he had defeated in the race for the Republican nomination. It’s almost unimaginable that he was able to keep this group together, Goodwin said in an interview to NPR. “But the success in keeping it together meant they also represented very different spectrums of political opinion from very conservative to moderate, to radical. And as long as he could keep that coalition together by keeping these people inside the tent, he was actually keeping those strands in the country together as well.”

It is a complete recognition of the fact that you don’t have to like people to work with them, Sabharwal says, offering his co-founder, Ashok Reddy, and himself as illustration of contrasting personalities—also a team of rivals.

“(One of) our board members said something very cool in one of our board meetings. He said if only Manish had been around, the company would not have survived. If only Ashok had been around the company would have been one-hundredth of its size. I think we both agree. I’ve never met an acquisition I don’t want to make, Ashok has never met an acquisition he wants to make. I am good at marketing, he's good at operations. I make our employees cry, he has therapy sessions with cribbing employees. He’s ugly, I’m good looking. I could go on but the point here is that I think that we have benefited by protecting each other from ourselves.”

Collaboration or teamwork is an essential feature not only of all successful companies but also individuals. Sabharwal says of his many roles, he’s an independent member on the board of the Reserve Bank of India, a member of the National Skill Mission and Central Advisory Board of Education and several other state and central government panels, that “the surface area of my mind has increased. I realised that life is not the solving of a sum but it is the painting of a picture.”

Put yourself in a place where you don’t have hard power, he recommends. “That can lead to you developing those muscles of listening which by definition is the first stage of balance, listening.”

This series of The Big Life discusses The Victory Project over four episodes.

This second episode features Saurabh Mukherjea, founder and chief investment officer of Marcellus Investment Managers, investment research consultant Anupam Gupta and Manish Sabharwal, chairman and co-founder TeamLease Services Ltd.

We discuss...

How leaders declutter their lives.

Creativity is also about risk appetite.

Why HDFC Bank, Amul and TCS exemplify the collaborative spirit.

The balance between ‘team’ and ‘leader’.

Also read: The Big Life: The Pandemic Of The Cluttered Mind

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