Have you ever been a member of a lousy team? Maybe the team leader didn’t provide good direction. Perhaps one person slacked off on crucial deadlines. Or maybe someone just didn’t pull her weight. I been fortunate to mostly have had great team experiences. Still the bad ones stick in my mind.
Three years ago I was working on my executive MBA. As part of a week-long public policy class in DC I was teamed up with four other MBA students from two other business schools to complete a project due at the end of the week. Even though we had never worked together before and barely knew each other, we would be graded as a team. Of my four team mates, three checked out of the project almost from the beginning forcing my remaining teammate and I to complete the task on our own.
We labored over our project for three long, late nights each hoping the other wouldn’t bail out at the last minute. And while we earned a good grade on the project, the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth and gave me a definite point of view about what made a good team.
While there are lots of academic studies about what makes a high-performing team, I’ve got my own theories about the kind of people every team needs in order to be successful.
It got me thinking.
The Mad Scientist. Every team needs an idea person, someone with a creative, counter-intutive mindset who can come up with an idea that can be blindingly obvious and yet totally novel at the same time. They are natural innovators. The Mad Scientist will challenge group think when the team falls into a rut or is playing it too safe. His ideas are often ahead of their time and may get dismissed for being too impractical or too difficult to pull off because of organizational politics.
But you need this kind of thinker so protect him, make sure he doesn’t get discouraged by naysayers and allow him to challenge you to keep your team’s thinking fresh.
The Data Cruncher. Every team needs a member with superior analytical abilities. It’s not just about someone who can pull together a spreadsheet (that’s essential too) but a good Data Cruncher is able to weave together seemingly disparate streams of information and create meaning from them in a variety of formats that are easy for laypeople to understand. Whether you are pitching a new idea to your boss, preparing for a presentation to your Board or just doing foundational research for an idea you are exploring, you need him.
Data Crunchers are naturally curious people who ask good questions that often others on your team haven’t considered. The best have a high degree of organizational credibility so don’t be afraid to ask him or her to be a co-presenter when it’s time to make your pitch your Big Idea.
The Empathic. Hard-charging, ambitious teams need this role in particular. The Empathic will make sure you don’t run roughshod over your colleagues. Their talent is being the team’s conscience. They will remind you that the”minor system upgrade” that’s no big deal to you will create a mutiny if you don’t get buy-in first. These people tend to have well-developed F traits on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.
Empathics are tactful, worry about group harmony and generally are sensitive to the needs of others. If this is a blind spot for you, this role becomes even more crucial. The Empathetic is particularly useful if you are introducing new ideas that will require culture change as she will make sure you don’t inadvertently step on cultural or political land mines.
The Utility Player. Put a Utility Player into any role on the team and he’ll deliver. They are as comfortable being followers as they are being leaders. People in this role often fly under the radar because they are so unassuming. They may not be dynamic or magnetic personalities but give them any job and they’ll get it done without a lot of fan fare or ego. Smart and focused, Utility Players are heavy lifters and can outwork most of their colleagues. Key to this role is they are not just doers but thinkers and make great thought partners and are good for gut-checking ideas.
The Field Marshall. The Field Marshall can create order out of chaos. She is able to keep the big picture in mind while minding the details. You can spot the Field Marshall by her detailed lists, charts and timelines. She is pragmatic, action-oriented and highly networked within her organization. She can call on the right resources in a pinch to get things done. You never have to look over her shoulder or micro-manage her because she is highly-motivated and self-directed.
Field Marshalls have a sense of urgency so when there is a deadline to be met, you can be sure she’s going to work like hell (and make sure everyone else does too) to get the job done.
Of course there are many important roles on any team but from my experience, these five are essential for success.
Now your turn. When you need to pull a team together what kind of people do you typically call on? What’s been your best or worst team experience? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.