What’s so special about a team of rivals?

Found this nice op-ed piece this morning called What’s so special about a team of rivals, By James Oakes. It’s the perfect antidote to the sloppy thinking circling the now cliched phrase ‘team of rivals’.

Another nice observation I heard on NPR last night was that every cabinet choice leaves the half dozen candidates you didn’t pick miffed with you. And if you pick the rival, there is some powerful candidate within your party or staff who will never view you in the same way again. All choices have opportunity cost and there’s no perfect way to select something as complex as a cabinet.

I confess I haven’t read Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals. And I do buy the nugget of the theory that selecting people who have diverse opinions, even in some cases opposing ones, can be a useful force if the energy of those tensions can be converted into the positive: better decisions or better policies. But to do that means picking very special kinds of rivals. Rivals with whom intelligent discourse and deep trust are possible, which is very hard to find.

2 Responses to “What’s so special about a team of rivals?”

  1. Dorian Taylor

    The most dangerous situation I’ve encountered in contemporary (that is to say, software) projects is the union of indecision (having multiple, ostensibly equal choices with no evident best option) with vacillation (committing to one course of action and subsequently reversing it).

    The worst place, I found, to have that conflict, is within the confines of a single individual’s skull. It is therefore that I fully support the notion of appointing members to teams that generate a marginal, healthy amount of conflicting interests, simply borne out of the nature of the specific work each individual is most concerned with accomplishing. This way, labour is divided, and each individual’s priorities are brought to the table, not even necessarily in a democratic or consensual fashion, but simply as recommendations that may act as tiebreakers to tough decisions belonging to their respective owners.

    The most thoughtful delineation I’ve seen so far (again, with respect to software), is in Alan Cooper’s 2002 mega-lecture called Imagine This (2 hours, safe to skip the first 15 minutes of rather colourful introductions).

  2. Melissa

    Read the book! Then, you’ll get it. And you’ll also see the parallels between Lincoln and Obama.


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