The Reason Behind the Difficulty of Building and Maintaining High-Performance Teams

Do we all know the theory of entropy? The theory of entropy states that all things in this world, or even in the universe go from a level of low entropy, highly ordered, to a level of high entropy, highly unordered. Take for example a 400-page book, where you have removed the binding, leaving you with 400 loose pages. If you were to throw all those pages in the air and let them fall to the ground, chances are your book would no longer be in numerical order. Of course some pages would still be, but you would most likely no longer have a book ordered from 1 to 400. Toss them in the air again and the pages would most likely be in even less order. If you were to keep doing so you could expect the pages to continue to be in less and less order, in other words going from low entropy (highly ordered), to high entropy (highly unordered). However, there is a non-zero chance that on your 102nd time throwing the pages in the air, they would land back in perfect order from 1 to 400. But the chances of this happening are so slim, that if it were to happen, you would not think that it happened by chance but would assume that someone tampered with your experiment and ordered the pages themselves. In fact the idea that it happened by chance, most likely, wouldn’t even enter your mind. You would assume that there was some human or intelligent interference that made it so. The reason why we would be so astounded and confused is because while there are a dizzying number of combinations that see those 400-pages in less than perfect order, there’s only one combination that sees them in numerical order.

Human interaction is what can actually reverse the process of low entropy to high entropy. Think of a beautiful painting. There is a non-zero chance that if you threw enough gobs of different colored paint at millions of blank canvases, that eventually one of those tosses would yield the Mona Lisa. But you could save a lot of time (and paint) by hiring a talented artist to organize the paint in a strategic way that would create a beautiful painting for you. This artist is taking disorder, and creating more order, also known as reversing the entropy theory and going from high entropy, to low.

In fact, if you are to look around, and consider for a moment all the things that we admire other humans for doing, you will find this is what we admire. Their ability to take chaos and make it something less chaotic, more ordered, and therefore quite beautiful. A quarterback that hits his receiver in perfect stride or a basketball player that’s able to sink three pointers time and time again. Musicians that string notes together in just the right way to create beautiful music, or a leader who is able to take a group of individuals with their own agendas, goals, and ambitions, and direct them toward impossible team efforts.

The reality is that building and leading high-performance teams is so difficult because you are doing just that. Taking something that has so many possibilities for disorder, and arranging them in the right way that it is ordered and productive. The end result of a beautiful painting, song, touchdown pass, or team effort may seem like low entropy at its finest, but I can assure you it was the fight against its natural inclination to become highly entropic that made the end result so amazing.

That is what leadership is all about. Discovering and implementing different ways to fight high entropy, and produce great teams.