One of the teams I work with was approached about a potential, second-to-none acquisition that came with an impressive leadership team. As we discussed that benefit, my client looked around the room and realized his team was not in the same league. So we had a frank discussion about the serious impact on his company if he made this acquisition. If his team wasn’t all A-Players.

He’s not alone. Most organizations to start with, only have 25% to 30% of A-players on their team.

Defining an A-Player

 Players are defined according to their fit with core values and performance or productivity:

  • An A-Player fits your culture well and delivers consistently excellent results. In school terms, they would get a 90% or higher grade on both. They are creative and efficient, and you love working with them.
  • A B-Player fits the culture very well but doesn’t consistently get an A grade on the quality of their work or hitting deadlines. They are productively good.
  • A C-Player doesn’t achieve the expected results and they don’t fit the culture.

And then there are the Toxic As who consistently deliver outstanding results but are a nightmare to work with because they create a lot of drama or friction. They’re often the hardest people to remove, because are so good at what they do and a force to be reckoned with. If they’ve stayed for a long time, they generally have some sort of power, or relationship with the CEO or some other weird dynamic, that has kept them in their role.

The costs of not having an all A-Player team

 1. More work for you

When you work with an A-Player, there’s not much to do, beyond giving a little guidance.

But if people are unable to confidently take on and execute tasks well and on time, you turn into a micro-managing babysitter. You can’t trust that the job is going to get done as expected. You know this is true if you are focused on a lot of short-term, day-to-day stuff.

With a Toxic A, you have to manage conflict or drama.

Caveat: Micro-managing can also be the result of your bad habits and how you lead. When we work with a new company, we try to unpack if the CEO and leaders are involved too much, and if the team has more capability. Often, it’s a little bit of both – a solvable problem if people are coachable into better habits.

 2. Less achievement/results

A-Players give you more value for money. A Toxic A- or B-Player – who likely makes the same salary as an A-Player yet doesn’t deliver the same results and takes more time to manage – can drain your organization of its strength and ability to achieve.

You are also unable to take on new projects. Imagine setting priorities and strategy, at an off-site annual or quarterly workshop, with a team of few or no A-Players. You have a big new project – say, to implement a new CRM or to expand into a new area – and realize you have no confidence in anyone on the team. As a result, you take on no big projects, or fewer that take longer to achieve. The cost in resources, time and energy is higher and the results, lower. You simply achieve less and squander resources.

 3. More stress for the whole team

Aligned A-Players, heading in the same direction, generally only create healthy friction. But a B- and C-Player team who isn’t as capable, or a Toxic A who doesn’t align with your values, are less productive and create misunderstandings which compound. Even one C- or Toxic A-Player creates more stress and frustration for the team.

Think of this as a relay race team. If you have one person who can barely run, and can’t pass the baton to somebody else, or who creates drama and problems, the whole team pays a price.

 4. You have to fix more mistakes

Mistakes and messes result from incompetence or mediocrity and relational service and quality issues. And while A-Players can make mistakes, they generally fix them quickly, without you getting involved.

High performers want to work with high performers.

 5. Leadership becomes undermined

When you don’t deal with a Toxic A or C-Player, your leadership is undermined as people question why you don’t deal with them. If you keep these players on the team, you endorse their behaviour, and demonstrate that being a toxic jerk is okay in your culture.

 6. B-Players tend to hire lower Bs or Cs

It takes a confident person to hire someone more capable than they are. If someone performs at a 78% level, they’re less likely to hire someone who’ll perform at 110% level.

If Bs or Cs on your team are involved in hiring, they’re not going to hire an A. The more Bs you have, the more Bs and Cs you get, and the spiral downward continues.

If you drop an A-Player into a team of Bs, and Cs, three things will happen:

  • That employee will either drop down to the level of the B’s, and C’s, or
  • They will be out quickly, because they want to be in a winning team, or
  • They’ll voice their frustration – and if you don’t fix it, they will leave.

No-one wins

Identifying and keeping someone who isn’t an A-Player doesn’t help anyone. Ignoring the situation doesn’t serve your organization and it prevents that person from being an A-Player at another company where they can be a better fit. Consider that, most of the time, C-Players or Toxic As just aren’t happy.

The Challenge

  • Based on reading this article, you are going to be thinking about a couple of people situations you need to sort out?
  • What are those three situations?

Want to hear more? Listen to Episode 88 of The Growth Whisperers.

We have a team of people who can transform executive and leadership teams from 25% or 30%, to 70%, 80% and 90%. If you need help with this, please reach out.


Lawrence & Co’s work focuses on sustainable and enhanced growth for you and your business. Our diverse and experienced group of advisors can help your leaders and executive teams stay competitive through the use of various learning tools including workshops, webinars, executive retreats, or one-to-one coaching.

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