Henry Ford said, “Why do I get a whole person when all I want is a pair of hands.” Those were the days! Organisations run on people, they need all sorts of personalities with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies, it’s what makes it interesting but more importantly, it’s what makes it work effectively. We all bring something to the table, even the bottom right-hand corner of a P&L is simply the sum total of lots of peoples’ behaviours.
All the early work of R Meredith Belbin showed how important it was to have a balance in a team. In his original studies, those teams which comprised individuals with similar attributes failed miserably, even those teams which were made up of the brightest and most able. Why was that? Well, they were all the product of an education system where coming ‘top’ was paramount, they all wanted to win, no one would concede a point or agree, and so they spent lots of wasted time on irrelevant debate, oh and no one wants to take the notes! So, he emphasised the importance of not having what he called ‘pure’ teams but the necessity of having a balance.
However, and it is a big ‘however,’ we prefer people who are more like us, we ‘get’ them, they do things how we would do them, we’re in tune. But we need people who are not like us, and so they will do things differently, they don’t share the same approach. So, we find in teams that this balance will create harmony, as people can leverage off each others strengths, or conflict, as individuals compete for the ‘right’ way of doing things, ie ‘my’ way, (as Frank Sinatra would have it.) In the Tuckman model of team development, he cites four phases of the team’s journey: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. In the Storming phase this is where we have the clashes, of different views, approaches, priorities and ways of doing things. Some people, as Belbin showed, are natural planners and implementors, some are more creative and driven by ideas, others are more detailed and happy in the weeds, some are far more people-centric, their role is glueing the team and looking after the welfare of the people. So, which is right? All of them, of course. But the problem then comes with our focus, the planners want to get on and plan no time for anything fluffy, those whose priority is the welfare of the individuals in the team want to take the time to make sure everyone is happy, feels part of it and taken care of, and the ideas folks want to have more ideas, in fact, “I’ve just thought of a better one…” This is why storming takes place, no one is in the wrong per se, just a different focus and set of priorities, yet all are needed to create a harmonious, productive, effective team.
But think of it this way, starting with us what we bring to the party, our unique contributions, but also our own weaknesses and how others can shore them up. We can’t be short if we’re tall, so if your natural bent is planning, you probably won’t be the ideas person, or so concerned about how people are feeling, you just want to get on and... well…plan! Remember the ‘law of instrument,’ “if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” Quite profound, really. Other people will bring what we don’t bring, what we don’t have, but which is just as necessary as what we bring ourselves.
So, this is why it is so important for a team, any team, work, social, or sports to get to know itself and its component parts, and that means understanding each and every individual and what they contribute. Then it is a far more positive and productive experience, not focusing on the ways in which they are not like ‘us,’ but precisely what they bring that isn’t like us, the things we’re not so good at, that don’t come naturally or which we just don’t want to do or focus on. Back to our original assertion, we all have something to bring to the party, in fact it is required that different people bring different strengths and attributes to bear so therefore it is super important to make sure we all understand and are clear what those attributes are.
It’s not just about ‘getting to know you,’ although that in itself is a good starting place, but is about contribution, difference, what motivates that individual, which environments are those in which they will thrive, what are they good at, what are they not so good at, what will make them wobble, what won’t work with them. This is a rich tapestry that can be mined and will put your team in a far better position to succeed. Agree?
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