Yesterday I wrote about the importance of recognising your own strengths and weaknesses, and how that ultimately helps you to understand yourself and relate to other people. Today I want to talk about the importance of recognising other people’s strengths and weaknesses, and how that can help you build a strong team.
Do you belong to a team, either at work, in a volunteer capacity or even in the sporting area? Teams can be chaotic, unwieldy and divided. They can also be effective, inclusive and creative. Is the make-up of a team crucial to its success? Definitely, whether that be a team of volunteers, work colleagues or athletes.
As individuals we often gravitate towards people like ourselves. Extroverts tend to like extroverts, introverts tend to like introverts. Also we tend to hang out with people the same age, sex and ethnicity as ourselves. And employers often hire a younger version of themselves, in the words of Austin Powers a “mini-me”. But research has shown that the best performing teams are diverse teams. The strength of diversity means that diverse teams achieve more than non-diverse teams and even outperform teams with more experience and education.
Think about the diverse positions in an AFL football team. The full backs are the big muscly guys who defend and come up against other big muscly guys. While the wing players need to be fast and nimble to run along the wings of the ground. Often they are smaller fellows. Then the half forward flank is a middle-man, the link between the forward line and the middle. He needs to be both strong and fast, delivering to the bigger forwards. Three very different roles that need three very different athletes.
The best teams off the field are just as diverse. The chewing gum manufacturer, William Wrigley, once said that when two people think alike on a team, one of them is redundant. So, if you are putting together a team or part of a team, realise that the best teams have people with different strengths and weaknesses.
Your team size
Research suggests that the ideal number of people in a team is three to seven. The bigger the team, the more scope there is for more conflict and confusion. If a small project can be managed by three people, then limit the team to three. If the workload requires a team of seven, accept that as the necessary number.
When assembling a team, think first about the types of skills you’ll need to accomplish the project then look for the minimal number of people with that skill set.
I have a good idea what my strengths and weaknesses are. I would describe my personality as visionary. I’m good at seeing the big picture. So when assembling a team I know I need someone who is detail-oriented. Someone who dots the i’s and crosses the t’s. I am not personally very good at that. In a diverse team you need the person who carefully focuses on one task at a time (usually the detail-oriented individual) and a person who multi-tasks (perhaps the visionary) and the flexible individual, who performs well during a crisis. I also like to include a doer in my team, someone who gets straight down to work, but then I need the sceptic, the person who spots problems before they become problems. It is good to have a team member with strong customer focus, who is going to think like my potential audience or client group. Finally it is great to have a “historian” in the team. This is a person who has worked in the area for a long time and comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge. But, be careful, the “historian” should not be someone resistant to change. You don’t want to be told a hundred times a day, “We’ve always done it like that, you can’t change it to this”.
When choosing team members think about how they behave in the workplace. You might have an employee who is brilliant, efficient but has no people skills and often offends co-workers. I’m afraid that person will inevitably cause problems in a team.
It is important to include both men and women and people of different ages and ethnicity. It’s no good for workplaces to just talk about diversity but never practise it. Diversity brings new perspectives and again all the research shows that diverse teams outperform the more capable, experienced and educated teams.
Once a team of varying abilities and gifts is assembled, the next issue, of course, is managing this group of people. The chain of command must be very clear. If you are the leader, is there a second in command?
The next step is to delegate tasks. In the public service, a written document is always drawn up when beginning a new project outlining goals and the individual’s roles in meeting those goals. This sounds time-consuming and tedious, especially if you are only working with a team of volunteers, but drawing such a plan might save time and trouble down the road. The whole team needs to be involved in drawing up this document. If you are the team leader, present the first draft and then ask team members to come back with amendments and improvements. The team needs to vote to accept the final document. The document must clearly define the roles of team members, but it doesn’t need to specify exactly how people carry out their work. Creative types would find that frustrating and limiting, however if there is a dispute between two team members, or someone has not completed their work then you look to this document, which clearly outlines which tasks are assigned to which team member.
As the manager of a team you need to monitor progress. Establish some goals at the beginning of the project. Hold regular meetings, and have an open door policy. Make yourself available to talk to team members. It is much better to hear about little problems before they escalate into big problems. If you are managing a group of volunteers ring them regularly and try to assemble them for monthly meetings.
Celebrate success with your team, but that should not involve raucous behaviour. If you meet an important goal, arrange to have lunch together. At the end of the day, a good team has a sense of camaraderie and respects differences. As the French say, vive la difference!
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.