Are you missing a key team member?

In a recent post, I mentioned my attendance at a Training for Change (TFC) workshop. Another TFC exercise that I found really insightful was what TFC calls “Team Types.” The exercise was introduced by a story, shared by Katey, one of the trainers, about the experience of organizing the 2011 March on Blair Mountain.

In her telling, this complex event was made possible by the presence of some distinct (and distinctly different) personalities:

  1. A visionary, who had the big picture and context in mind at all times.
  2. A data geek, who—in this particular case—had the maps and walkie-talkie frequencies ready to hand whenever needed.
  3. A relationship builder, someone constantly checking in on and working to preserve the group’s morale.
  4. An action-oriented person or “warrior,” someone who always has one foot out the door and wants things to happen yesterday.

We then engaged in an exercise in which we were asked to classify ourselves in one of these categories and do some reflection about each category’s pluses and minuses, including our own. (If you want more details about the exact exercise we did, you can read more on the TFC site.)

I found this exercise—and the discussion that followed—really insightful. I’m sure it’s old news to many people in leadership positions that high-functioning teams need some distinct personality types on board, and that the tension between some of these types is actually key to success, but I had never previously been exposed to this idea in explicit terms.

One thing that occurred to me was to use either this exercise, or just the concepts and descriptions of each “team type,” as a tool for analyzing something that might be holding a group back, that is, to answer the question “who is missing from this team?” I think that people tend to gravitate toward their own “type,” so, as small community groups form organically, there might be a tendency for one or the other of these categories to be over-represented, or, conversely, to be missing altogether. And while it might be more comfortable to be around people like us, as soon as you give any thought to the potential value of the interplay and tension between the four types described above, it becomes clear that a well-balanced team has a much higher likelihood than a poorly balanced one of moving from talk to action.

One interesting detail about the way TFC presents this concept is that it uses points of the compass to represent each one (East: visionary; South: relationships; West: data; North: warrior). This turns out to be a useful way to think about this concept because, as Paul—my buddy during the workshop—pointed out, just as a compass has many more than four points, it may be more accurate to recognize that few of us fall entirely within just one of these categories. Rather than be a “true north,” we might really be a “northeast,” combining characteristics of the visionary and the warrior, for example.

This offers a way into using this exercise—or at least the concepts behind it—to analyze even teams that have fewer than four people. Even if you don’t have enough people to fill in each category with a separate individual, it might be that one member of your team offers a lot from two or even more of these categories.

But maybe not, and analyzing a small team using this concept might help you discover that you are in fact missing a vital team member and need to recruit someone new—and not just anyone (if you have the luxury of choosing), but someone who will cover the gap you have identified.



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