Pursue dynasties, not super teams
Issue 90: From Damn Yankees to Fast: why it's important to seek long-lasting teams over ephemeral super teams
Between middle and high school, a film called The Faculty came out. It’s a sci-fi horror film loosely based on a TV show with the same name. This Robert Rodriguez film included quite the cast: Jordana Brewster, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, Famke Janssen (AKA Xena Onatopp and the good Jean Grey from X-Men, Robert Patrick (AKA T-1000 from Terminator 2), Usher Raymond (AKA Urrrsher), Jon Stewart, and Elijah Wood. The film also had one of the most iconic songs for the soundtrack—a remix of Pink Floyd's by The Class of 99—a supergroup formed in Seattle that comprised Layne Staley of Alice in Chains (RIP), Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction, Martyn LeNoble of Porno for Pyros, Matt Serletic of Matchbox Twenty. This epic song was my first memory of the concept of a super team.
The Class of 99 is not the first super team. Damn Yankees was an American rock supergroup formed in 1989 consisting of Tommy Shaw of Styx, Jack Blades of Night Ranger, Ted Nugent of The Amboy Dukes, and Michael Cartellone. The top hit they're known for is "High Enough," one of the cornerstone songs of the epic compilation albums in 1999 called Monster Ballads—an album so epic it made you wish Columbia House was still around to buy the CDs in bulk.
Super teams exist beyond music. They can be found in the film, sports, and even teams at tech companies. Whether you love or hate them, super teams get a lot of attention. I'm fascinated by how the teams pan out—if they’ll meet the high expectations or completely tank.
As a life-long Los Angeles Lakers fan, I’ve had my fair share of experiences watching thriving dynasties in addition to underperforming super teams. The most recent example of the latter is the 2021-2022 Lakers that included LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and basically 9 other guys. This squad that had championship ambitions did not even make the NBA playoffs, and the only way to watch the Lakers on television is the HBO Max show Winning Time. The series is based on the Showtime Lakers who dominated the 1980s.
Despite the team being super, that Lakers squad did not find success overnight. Super teams are the amalgam of stars being assembled quickly in hopes of achieving instant success.
The challenge with super teams
The 2022 NBA playoffs have been brutal for super teams. My beloved Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs and the Brooklyn Nets were swept in the first round. How do teams with so much talent fail to succeed? Let’s break down a few reasons.
Super teams are expected to succeed immediately
Though the star power of super teams starts bright, it can burn quickly—crashing and burning in a pile of disappointment. One example is in the NFL. The 2000 Washington Football team—the team that gave them the nickname, "Offseason champs.” Recently, we've seen tech startup Fast implode before our eyes, hiring 500 employees in a near but netting only $600,000 in ARR. When you assemble super teams and build a lot of hype around them, you have to execute.
Imbalance of star power
Kyle Lambert wrote a great article, We all can't be MVPs, and I agree with this lot. Many super teams have an imbalance of star power with everyone being the number one on the team. Great teams need role players, coaches, and the front office to be firing on cylinders. Excellence is when everyone is pushing to be the best version of themselves from Level 1 to Level 10. This sets a very high standard for the team, and a Level 1 likely would go on to be a higher level at other teams.
Pursue dynasties: the teams of the decade
The definition of a dynasty in a team setting is one that dominates for several years. My personal definition is showing excellence for an entire decade. Instead of super teams that are trying to find instant success, seek those organizations that can be enduring and long-lasting.
From observing great teams from various industries, I’ve found some common attributes.
Greatness is built over time
The primary reason super teams don’t succeed is they don’t have enough time to work well together. Russell Westbrook is likely leaving the Lakers after one year and the team doesn’t even have a second year of playing together. Super teams are assembled too hastily. Teams of the decade have worked together for a long time. The longer you work with someone, the more familiar you’ll be with how to work together at a high level.
The team members elevate each other
Even with Magic and Kareem, the Showtime Lakers would not have found success without Michael Cooper and AC Green. Everyone had to play their part. If Pat Riley didn’t step in and control the egos of the team, there would not have been that accountability structure for everyone to demand everyone to be the best version of themself.
They inspire the next team of the decade
Dynastic teams are the ones that inspire others to be the next team of the decade. Despite being rivals, the Boston Celtics of the 70s dominance and constantly beating the Lakers motivated them to get over the hump in the 80s. Michael Jordan had to get past the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons of the east before getting a chance to take down the Lakers dynasty. Not all motivation has to be competitive and it can be inspirational. The two design teams that inspired me throughout my career are Disney’s Imagineering team and Apple’s Human Interface Group.
Make the defining moments
The start of any team dynasty does not happen overnight. However, there are iconic moments when looking back defined it. When Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls took the 90s away from the Lakers, it was “The Move.”
For the San Francisco 49ers, it was “The Drive” that started the dynasty of the 80s. You may be a moment or two away that changes the course of your team. The beauty of being a designer, entrepreneur, or technologist is our work fosters a zero-sum game. This isn’t Highlander, and there can be more than one. This work isn’t resolved with the NBA Finals. I believe there can be multiple design teams over the decades. The championship looks different for everyone in their career, and I hope you find your dynasty.
Tweet of the week
Really looking forward to Tony Faddell’s book launching this week.
The Sunset Machine by Tamar Nachmany
Job board: roles at Webflow
Since this is my newsletter, I want to plug our team at Webflow! We’re striving to become the design team for the 2020s. We are only 20% through this decade and looking for incredible people to join our awesome team:
Senior Product Designer (multiple roles)
Senior Product Designer, Designer (Webflow’s site-building experience)
We’re hiring many roles across the entire company: view roles
A list of various super teams
Boston Celtics, 2007-2012
Fast Five (Vin Diesel and The Rock)
Temple of the Dog (so good!)
Miami Heat, 2010-2014
Los Angeles Lakers, 2000-2002 and 2009-2010
New York Yankees (literally every year?)
I’m a life-long Raiders fan and it kills me to recommend this book! In all seriousness, it's a great book
Chris Cornell and Tom Morello have been on so many super teams