When it Comes to Talent the Right Team is Everything

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When George Harrison auditioned as a guitarist for the Liverpool band The Quarrymen in 1958, he was only 14 years old. Joining the band some months later, his persona as the “younger” member of the band was quickly established. Remarkably, at this early stage of his career (with the soon-to-be Beatles) Harrison had not yet embarked upon his journey as a songwriter. As this skill evolved, his role within the dynamic of the Beatles would prove to be a long-standing challenge. Harrison’s tremendous gift for melody (penning such enduring classics as “My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Something” and “Beware of Darkness”) was somewhat impeded by the team environment in which he found himself. On some level — even with the enormous success of The Beatles — Harrison found himself on the wrong team.

The creative struggles that Harrison faced within a team environment are not uncommon. Harrison clearly benefited from his exposure to the talented group, before writing his first song around 1963. (Harrison never learned to read or write music — and didn’t regret that. He employed a “copyist”, as he termed it, to transcribe his melodies.) However, he struggled to gain a place for his music on Beatles’ albums, operating in the shadow of the prolific Lennon-McCartney machine. Reflecting upon Harrison’s contributions to Abbey Road, the last Beatles’ album, Author Peter Lavezzoli wrote: “Harrison would finally achieve equal songwriting status … with his two classic contributions to the final Beatles’ LP”.

Harrison forged relationships with other artists, including Bob Dylan, which offered him varied experiences that supported his creative growth. By the time The Beatles formally split in 1970, Harrison had already worked on other projects. In a 1971 interview, he revealed that he had a backlog of original songs, never recorded. (All Things Must Pass, originally a triple album, was also released in 1970.) Commenting on the break-up of the band, Harrison described the experience as a “relief” — a telling comment. (See the entire interview here.)

Talent alone will not ensure that an individual will excel to their fullest ability within a specific team. In the case of Harrison, he ultimately found alternative paths to pursue — but his actions were likely not without an emotional cost. Within our own organizations, leaders must become cognizant of factors which impact the success of individual players within a team.

What we might learn:

  • Consider the individual carefully. Talented individuals will run the gamut in terms of both personalities and communication styles. For example, an introverted yet highly gifted individual, may require guidance or support to find an equal voice on a team.
  • Monitor team dynamics. Collecting talent is one thing — nurturing how the contributors work together as a team, is another. Pay close attention to the dynamics within the group that could derail motivation and eventual success.
  • Offer “side” paths. Pay attention to developing skill sets of your team members over time. People evolve — and so should their work lives. As was the case with Harrison, his talent emerged over time, but was not fully recognized by the larger group. Be on point to discover these gifts, and offer them vehicles to explore them.
  • Monitor the “contract”. Although a team relationship may be prove successful — talented individuals still opt to leave, both physically and emotionally. (Harrison was barely present for the making of Sargent Pepper’s) Have conversations to establish the health of the psychological contract. Happy work life relationships, between employees and employers, are a two-way street.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Saving Your Team With Constructive Dissension

constructive-irritantYou may think the dissenters on your team are just a pesky, annoying liability – but in reality you should be thanking them. They may provide the additional perspective your team needs to ward off a host of group process nightmares. In fact, dissension may be the most underrated quality in organizations today. Embrace your dissenters — and the conflict that comes along with that territory — because they can, and will, save you.

In a previous post, I delve into the serious reservations many of us have about serving on teams. Utilizing teaming is a common practice in organizations today — but one that leaves many contributors feeling frustrated. Progress on a team can be painfully slow, while team members gingerly dance around core issues in an effort to avoid “conflict”. This is where things can begin to go wrong. Of course, cohesiveness and “smooth sailing” can be positive qualities for a work group, but a bit of dissension to keep things “honest” can be highly advantageous. Dissenting opinions can actually make a team stronger. It’s the peanut butter to the jelly — the ying to the yang.

Teams seem require a mix of opinions and some measure of “creative tension” to excel.

While conflict is often feared — it is also completely misunderstood. Many of us shy away from conflict most likely because  it ultimately makes us feel uncomfortable. However, research shows that conformity does not necessarily grow authentic cooperation within teams. There are nasty by-products to “unhealthy” levels of cohesiveness. One such example is groupthink, a malady that may be the root of a number of recent organizational failures. Unfortunately, no team is immune.

Cohesiveness is more about considered moderation. Too little and you have problems — too much, and you have a very different set of problems. While teams require a certain level of internal harmony to establish norms and values, there is always a need for an “open window ” to allow fresh ideas and the possibility of change. If that window closes completely, the team can become unhealthy — this can impact the quality of team decisions.

Many of us are programmed to avoid conflict. Here are some ideas to help your team learn to voice dissenting opinions:

  • Raise awareness. Let members know that disagreement can be  healthy and that the team encourages constructive tension. This will help set the stage and encourage more “voices” to come forward.
  • Value listening. Draft listening as a core value of the team. Ultimately, we cannot learn from dissension if our hearts and minds are not really open to the conversation.
  • Respect always rules. Constructive dissension boils down to team members offering respect to their colleagues. When this principle is ignored, any level of disagreement can quickly become an unhealthy.
  • Encourage dissenting opinions. Teach team members how to disagree diplomatically. Many individuals may want to disagree, yet are not sure how to avoid “causing trouble”. Offer ways to speak up by suggesting healthy “templates” or a “scripts” to do so.
  • Pose alternatives. If they find fault with an idea or strategy — be sure that team members attempt to offer an improved version or alternative solution. Constructive criticism is always preferred.
  • Deal with dyad issues. If two members seem to be experiencing personal conflict, ensure this does not play out during team meetings. Encourage a dialogue to resolve core issues outside of the team and contain “toxic spills” rooted in personal issues.
  • Focus on solutions, not the “win”. Ultimately, one single idea does not have to “win” — and this can help take the pressure out of collaboration.  Masters of innovation such as Pixar, combine the ideas of many contributors to formulate solutions. In this way being honest and open, won’t take sway from another team member’s work.

How does your work group or team feel about conflict? Does your team have a unique way to handle conflict effectively?

How Not to Manage an Introvert

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Do you supervise individuals who would describe themselves as an introvert? If the answer is yes — you may want to take a moment to examine how you manage them. In many cases, we hold misconceptions about introversion which can lead to ill-fated supervisory decisions. I’d like to help.

While many people confuse being introverted with shyness — introversion is in fact, about how an individual handles stimulation and processes information. Those on the introverted end of the introversion/extroversion continuum, require a different set of workplace conditions to excel — and we need to become sensitive to their needs.

Small changes in management and workplace elements, can transact into a more comfortable environment which is conducive to success.

A few things to rethink:

  • Putting them on the spot. It would be misguided to expect an opinion from an introvert at the “drop of the hat”. One hallmark of introversion is the need to sit with one’s thoughts and process information  — often far from the “madding crowd”. If  you offer an introvert a period of time to process, you’ll likely take full advantage of their skills.
  • Publicly recognizing them. Stop yourself. Really. Many introverts would rather jump off a cliff than have attention shifted in their direction without notice. If they are about to receive an award or accolade, let them know what you are planning ahead of time. They’ll appreciate the gesture and have time to prepare.
  • Teaming. It’s not that introverts are against teaming —  they would just rather contribute on their own terms. This means time to ruminate over issues on the table and offering a bit of a lull before they will jump into the conversation. To an introvert, teaming can become a bit of a workplace nightmare, in direct opposition to how they would normally approach their work.  So, be sure to offer opportunities for introverts to start the idea generation process before team meetings and allow points in the conversation where they can jump in. (Try pausing 8-seconds before moving to the next topic.)
  • The power of a quiet space. You don’t have to be an introvert to appreciate a calm environment in which to process information. Incorporating spaces within your office design that allow for both peace and privacy, is always wise. (Read more about that here.) Someone leaning toward the introverted side of the continuum, will be forever grateful.
  • They have nothing to communicate. By nature, introverts can be less likely to share their thoughts — which makes it even more important to check in with them regularly. Send them an e-mail, asking how their projects are progressing. They can reflect and respond on their own terms.
  • Introverts cannot lead. Truth be told — you are dead wrong here. Recent research has shown that those on the introverted side of the continuum are more open to a differences in opinion than their extroverted colleagues. As a result, they are more likely to make more informed decisions. In fact, it has been shown their hesitancy to monopolize the conversation, can actually make them powerful team members. Sounds like leadership material to me.

Are you an introvert? What workplace conditions help you excel?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and formerly at US News & World Report.

Don’t Work with People Like You

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This may seem counter intuitive — but I don’t recommend that you work with people like you. In fact, you shouldn’t work with those that make you feel entirely comfortable. (You don’t even need to like the people you work with, every minute of every day. But, liking all of your co-workers is a bonus.)  What you really need are people to challenge you and help you contribute to the limits of your potential. If you surround yourself with those of the same perspective — or temperament – or even in the same field or function — you are missing out on options for career growth and eventual success.

Most of us have a tendency to drift towards what we know — a completely normal response to an often harried world. We’ll travel the same path to work, and order the same menu item at a restaurant. This process becomes second nature and we don’t often question it. However, if we apply this to the workplace, things become problematical. You require exposure to differing opinions, experiences and work styles to excel.

Let’s imagine that you have the responsibility of forming a team to take on a problem or company initiative. You choose a team of  individuals whom you know and trust. What follows, is that you have a group of individuals that may certainly be strong in certain areas — but there is the possibly that they hold the same perspective or skill set that you possess. Consider the worst case scenario: that your team is just not robust enough to tackle the task in front of them. You now have a very serious problem. If you have indeed formed a team with similar perspective or skills as yourself, your team is now officially limited.

The same premise can hold for your career. If you have contact with only individuals who share your specific perspective, you’ll likely never be challenged. This can handicap you in so many ways.

The next opportunity you have to network or build a team, pause and consider bringing at least one completely fresh perspective to the table. Build your “team” with a wide breadth of both skills, temperaments and perspectives — being sure to represent all related functions. Add a mentor to your life from a completely unexpected background. Find out how that new co-worker, that you don’t quite “get” ticks.

You simply never know. That “odd man” may be holding the piece of the puzzle that you’ve been searching for.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

What Do We Really Think About Teams?

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If we pay close attention, we can learn a great deal from our children. They are honest — often brutally so — and are not as concerned about mincing words when expressing an opinion. When discussing a common practice utilized in organizations and schools today, working on a team, the opinion in my home is quite clear:  time spent on a team can be a “hit or miss” experience.

Secret concerns
It is difficult to admit that we may not have total confidence in the team process. (We’ve learned to feel guilty about this.) From my early days as a team researcher in the auto industry — to experiences with small businesses — the reality is we have doubts about teams. Overall,  just like high school students assigned to a group project, we find ourselves worried about the prospects of working on a team. But, why is this the case?

Ultimately, things can go very wrong when we ignore some of the essential principles of teams and team building. Assembling, managing and motivating a team are not to be taken lightly. When we rush into the process and forget the basics, it seems that the entire team process shoulders the blame.

Common complaints:

  • The work is not distributed evenly. Considering skill levels within a team is crucial — as an equitable distribution of tasks is highly important. One real concern, is that the strongest team members will end up working the hardest. Ensure that the skill levels of those involved been carefully considered.
  • The pace of the work is simply too slow. Dealing with a large group can sometimes be time-consuming. Overall, the more people involved, the more time it will take to make progress as issues such as scheduling become a factor. Some begin to feel they would rather forgo the added trouble of the team and go solo — even if more of the work will fall on their court.
  • I won’t be a strong contributor. Being on a team can be stressful for some. Even highly skilled employees might avoid a team, if they fear they will be made to feel less competent. The entire process can be a jolt to the ego of team members if they are not properly prepared. Experiences such as having their ideas challenged in an open forum, can be a difficult to digest.

Some things to keep in mind going forward:

  • Being a team contributor is a learned skill. We should never assume that all individuals, including students, possess an innate ability to collaborate and work effectively on a team. In reality, effective team membership is a complicated skill set (active listening, sharing confidently, tolerance) that requires training and practice to perfect. For many employees, serving as a team member can be a completely challenging experience —  especially without the advantage of adequate training.
  • Consider paths to mitigate the weaknesses of teams. J. Richard Hackman’s,  A Normative Model of Work Team Effectiveness (1983), highlights some of the basic elements that should be considered when forming a team. Issues such as team autonomy and performance feedback, are key to success.
  • Focus on the right mix of talent. Haphazardly designed teams, which pop up in organizations today, often meet with failure because these components are not be considered carefully. As discussed recently in Forbes, you can actually do more harm than good (and even risk your top talent), if those assigned to a team are not the right mix to fuel progress. Choosing team members so the synergy of the group is maximized is critical. Assembling a group without adequate consideration as to member skills and personalities, is ill-advised.
  • Monitor growth. It is also necessary to keep a close eye on the growth of a team – as members tend to be added over time. This uncensored growth can be counter-productive.  For example, when innovation is a key goal of the team process, the group may need to be quite small. Above all, when teams grow too large, they can start to mirror the same problems in the larger organization, such as lack of progress and a failure to meet milestones.
  • Carefully consider the role of leader. The role of team leader has a very unique and critical function. A leader can bring together tasks and help the group gain perspective, as larger tasks are often broken down and assigned to various team members. As described by Dr. Steve Kozlowski, a leading researcher on teams at Michigan State University, “When you break up a task into discrete elements – such as assigning students to look at the specific decade in history, the synergy that occurs between the time periods can be lost. ” Leaders not only lend this perspective, but they also help modify team goals over time and offer feedback concerning task and goal attainment – essential components of the team process.

An effective team requires careful planning and adequate training for its members to reap the many benefits of the process. When contemplating a team approach, be sure to consider all of the elements that will contribute to success.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.