They (whomever “they” is) say opposites attract. When it comes to building collaborative teams though, my experience tells me that “like,” not “opposite,” attract.
I gravitate to people who are more like me--perhaps because I believe I will understand them better and we will get along better. But having people on my team who are mostly like me will not provide a well-rounded team—a team with which I can accomplish things I would probably not accomplish with a bunch who are all just like me. I need different kinds of people--people with different ways of thinking, different ways of approaching problems and different ways of carrying out solutions.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be at least one of each of the following on any team, regardless of why the team is being formed or what the team is trying to accomplish.
1. Crazy Dreamers who will come up with new ideas
Someone on this team needs to be an incurable dreamer--a person who is always thinking of new (maybe somewhat crazy) ideas which some will say will never work…that others will say has never been tried before and, therefore, cannot be tried…or that maybe it has been tried, and failed, and should never be tried again.
Yesterday Susan and I saw, “Million Dollar Arm” which is an inspiring film based on a true story of sports agent JB Bernstein who concocts a scheme to find baseball's next great pitcher. JB travels to India hoping to find a young cricket pitcher he can turn into a major league baseball pitcher in less than one year. Talk about a crazy, impossible, risky idea; but they did it!
2. Critical Thinkers who will raise important issues
Obviously, every idea that a “crazy dreamer” comes up with is not going to be good and/or worth attempting and that’s why the team needs at least one member who is given permission to ask the probing questions…questions the dreamers usually don’t like to hear, but that need to be heard. These questions may very well keep the team from destroying itself.
It’s a delicate dance: to ask enough questions to improve the idea, but not so many questions that the idea is killed--unless, of course, the idea is flat out ridiculous. I once coached a leader who told me that sometimes he felt like shooting the “question asker” on his team! I told him I didn’t really think he would do that and he replied that “yes,” he might just do it! Well, the guy is still alive; so, either the leader changed his mind, or the asker toned down the amount or frequency of his questions. Questions do need to be asked:
- Have we thought of this or that?
- If we do this, how will we pay for it?
- What are some potential downsides to doing this?
- Are we sure this is the best time to try and pull this off?
3. Courageous Implementers who plow through the difficulties and make it happen
Even if the team has some crazy dreamers and some critical thinkers, ideas will still not leave the tarmac and get airborne without some courageous implementers.
In the excellent book, “Execution” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charran I found this: “The intelligent, articulate conceptualizers don’t necessarily understand how to execute. Many don’t realize what needs to be done to convert a vision into specific tasks, because their high-level thinking is too broad.” (pg. 36) Welcome to the courageous “can-do” types who will take a great idea and chart a pathway to its completion. They can connect the various dots and make it happen. They are detailed people with a bias for action and are chomping at the bit to see it achieved. They are able to look at an idea, a vision, and say, “I/we can do that.”
In closing, let me say that for the three types to work together, they will need to respect and not resent what each brings to the table. Shooting one of them will not be helpful. The crazy dreamers will need to understand that they tend to operate at a high level and are not always good at the details needed to carry the idea through to the finish line or see the potential problems in their thinking.
The critical thinkers will need to be careful to not say there are two many problems to attempt the idea in the first place. The courageous implementers will need to be persevering in the face of setbacks and discouragements or a change of plans/direction by the crazy dreamers.