Building A Winning Team

In my experience, people tend to take on one of three roles in any organization: doers, thinkers, and indifferents. Doers are your classic alpha males and females, the jocks and business executives and soldiers who prefer action over talking and deliberating. They tend to favor hierarchical command structures and act decisively when problems arise, preferring to clean up after a bad decision in the future over wasting time considering options in the present.

On the other end of the spectrum, thinkers are intellectuals (using the term loosely). They like data and balancing tests and lots of lead time to weigh everything out. Thinkers aren’t so big on hierarchy and prefer to let the best ideas rise on their own merits. They tend to, though not always, have less-forceful personalities than doers.

The indifferents are the worker bees who just want to be told what to do so that they can do their part and get whatever it is they want out of the situation and go home. Most people end up in this category because they fall somewhere along the spectrum of doers and thinkers and so get swayed by whichever side has the strongest personality or most appealing idea.

The types all have something to contribute, though increasingly indifferents will find themselves without a seat at the table as organizations go leaner and people specialize more to deal with the global economy. It’s going to get hard for people who just want to get paid for showing up.

I think the optimal type mix depends on what sort of organization you’re running. Old-model massive corporations needed lots of indifferents with doers running things at all levels. Not much room for intellectuals there. Small start-ups probably only need a 1:1 ratio of doers and thinkers, as much of the work done by indifferents can probably now be outsourced. No matter what the organization, though, checks and balances have to be in place so that the thinkers don’t get swallowed up by the more dominant doer personalities, and conversely so that the doers aren’t stifled by constant analysis and second-guessing.

This means that both sides need to have a sponsor on the other side of the divide. The thinkers need a doer who sees the value in reasonable contemplation to shout the other alphas down when necessary, and the doers need a thinker who knows when speculation must yield to action. Preferably everybody on both sides can be so clearheaded, but this rarely happens. So facilitators who can get the best work out of everybody and synthesize contributions will be increasingly valuable.

Personally I absolutely hate group exercises because I find navigating these dynamics immensely frustrating. Politics is not my strong suit. But institutional leverage is an amazing thing when put to good use, so I try to keep these principles in mind whenever (I decide) a team needs me.

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Filed under Career, Institutions, Organizations

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