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Something was missing from the Smashing Pumpkins concert: What was it?

A lesson that when teams are truly great, they can be more than the sum of their parts

By Todd Humber

Nobody is irreplaceable. That’s a phrase you hear all the time in the workplace, and for the most part it’s true.

I’ve been working for Thomson Reuters for nearly 17 years, and have been the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter since 2006. Now, I also wear the double hat of associate publisher and managing editor, something that started in 2014.

If I left tomorrow, and a new editor took the helm, most readers wouldn’t likely notice much of a difference. We’d still write about important HR issues, the regular columns and features would still populate the pages as usual and our website — — would still be filled with daily news impacting the workplace.

The same is probably true in your job. If you left, the walls would not collapse.

But there are nuances in work, in how teams mesh together, that may not be obvious — but they’re certainly there if you take a closer look.

I was reminded of that last night while attending the Smashing Pumpkins concert in Toronto. I’ve always been a massive fan of Billy Corgan, the frontman of the band that had its glory days in the 1990s. The song “1979” remains one of my favourites of all time.

Last night, as Corgan’s distinctive voice filled the amphitheatre, I was a bit underwhelmed. All the pieces were there — no wrong notes hit, no obvious glitches, he got all the lyrics right — but the performance lacked something.

I was reminded by a friend during the show that Corgan has a reputation for being a jerk. There has been quite a bit of turnover in his band — some voluntary, some not so voluntary.

Darcy Wretzky, the original bassist who joined the band when it formed in 1988, left in 1999. She was fired “for being a mean spirited drug addict who refused to get help,” according to Corgan.

Mike Byrne, drummer from 2009 to 2014, took heat from Corgan in a blog post — a post in which Corgan also set his sights on the stereotypical shortcomings of Gen-Y. (Byrne is 25.)

“Mike Byrne has taught me a lot about his generation,” he wrote. “And watching the twitch up close, the ADD of it all, I’m starting to understand what he found boring about the Mighty (Smashing Pumpkins). He wasn’t wrong. But he also wasn’t right too.”

Read into that what you want — Corgan is also notoriously cryptic. And kinda weird , though that’s par for the course with many musicians.

The HR point in all this, though, is that when you assemble and disassemble and reassemble teams it can have a significant impact on the end product. When organizations restructure, as they are wont to do, the product still gets pushed out the door at the end of the day.

But amidst all that shuffling, something can be lost.  

Did I hear “Disarm,” “1979” and “Zero” last night? Yes.

Were they competently performed? Sure.

But there was something missing, a certain je ne sais quoi, that served as a reminder of this: When teams are truly great, they can be more than the sum of their parts.

And now for a diversion...

The video for "1979".

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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