Ordinary People, Extraordinary Team

  • Your strategy is a jigsaw puzzle, and people  are puzzle pieces
  • Like puzzle pieces, every member must be compatible with her adjacent teammates
  • The team must buy into the strategy. After all, they have to execute on it
  • Tweaking your strategy to suit your team  is far easier and quicker than hiring and firing

What matters is how the team performs as a whole. Start by understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts

See the sidebar for a recap of the old school method that neither scales nor is as good as a diverse team

Bill Belichick ‘Its about your most dependable people, not necessarily your most talented people’

Your role as a leader is to find a strategy that can accomplish your goals with the people you have and the people you could get. Do you have a good mix of these kind of people on your team ?

  • Thinkers
  • Doers
  • Facilitators
  • Herders
  • Validators
  • Consumers of your own product or service

As a leader, your duty to them is to provide an environment conducive for achieving the goal. And of course, make sure their eyes are on the ball and they don’t loose the forest for the trees

As a leader, you have many other duties … finding customers, evangelizing your product, raising capital etc, Educate and coach your managers to build strong teams, by creating a workable strategy around a diverse team

Now that you are setup, what if they aren’t performing ?

Check if the team composition fits your strategy.  Are there gaps in capability? Maybe everybody is thinking, and nobody is doing. Maybe you have obstructionists instead of validators.

Is the strategy too complex? Eliminate weak links and difficult-to-execute paths. Make certain your strategy doesn’t need  super-heros or Einsteins

If the strategy and composition are fine, then poor execution is because the team members either don’t understand how they should function, or are unwilling to perform according to strategy

In one example, the team used to relegate some critical tasks to one person who had the knowledge but was a non performer. But the strategy called for others to consult the knowledge holder but do the work themselves. Once the team understood this, they still couldn’t execute the strategy because the one member would say ‘it’s a lot easier to do this myself“. So the leader has to coach the knowledge worker to think of others as ‘smart worker bees’ who he can pass on a knowledge to, and they would do it “for  him”.

Removing or firing a person from the team is a tool, not a solution. Obvious reasons to fire someone are egregious or illegal behavior that can’t be corrected without damage to the team morale or reputation. Or it may take a lot of effort to correct such behavior. This doesn’t happen often

It is more likely that you have to remove a STAR than a non performer. An example of this is in the movie Moneyball. The general manager removes a star player Giaomi, because the coach didn’t understand the strategy. The coach though that he only needed Giaomi. But in reality, the entire team had to perform to win

In one case, I had to fire reassign a star because his egoistic attitude towards junior members was aggressive and impolite. But he had a lot of valuable knowledge and experience. So, I changed his personal goal from execution to teaching. This allowed him to be in a proud, superior-feeling role without the authority to control execution. This new role was personally satisfying to him and immensely useful to the team

Strategy is probably the biggest reason to let a person go. If you have gaps in your team, or you are constrained by your budget, you may have to trade in some people for others. In one example, we had too many architects, but not enough coders. The architects could code, but were unwilling to. So I had to trade senior architects to fee up money to hire programmers. It also reduced the number of cooks in the kitchen

8 Replies to “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Team”

    1. That works in small teams with a narrow scope. You have to modify it for high performance teams. High performance teams draw people from different backgrounds thought processes. So while my visionary solutions architect can code up a prototype, he shouldn’t have to pull a coding ticket off the backlog just because its the next thing on the list to do. But that budding engineer fresh out of college could pick a challenging design as long as you can time box it and make sure he is seeking knowledge from others

    1. Yeah. Literally sitting side by side and coding is horrendous! It is counter productive, kills innovation, creates clique pairs.

      But I have found tag teaming works very well. For tag teaming to work, the task at hand should be of a decent size – something that takes thought and at least a few days of work. It is important for the tag team to discuss the solution and implementation and share work, rather than literally looking over each other’s shoulder.

  1. @jason lets make it fun. If you supply popcorn or lumch, I can get a couple of movies – MoneyBall & Modern Times. I wont play all of it, just some clips

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