Fit team members to the work for the best results

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F is for Fit

One of our great challenges of life, is to come to know ourselves. Somewhere around my mid-40’s, I began to get a fairly good idea of who I am and where my talents are. The next challenge? To describe myself accurately to others.

Why bother with that?

Well, in a way, it is to create an “operator’s guide” to provide the greatest value to the organizations and people I might help.

It has not been so easy a task to create that description, we are all different and human beings are often complex; defying simple definition. Recently, I came across a series of blog posts about “assembling a dream team.” In these posts, a business owner invested energy to understand his highest performing team members.

Psychological Profiles of the Dream Team … by Don Fornes

Don Fornes: “Over time, I’ve picked up on some of the characteristics that make the highest-performing members of my team so unique. But I knew I still had a lot to learn. So I decided to engage an Austin-area psychiatrist, Dr. James Maynard, to help me better understand my team …”

From this work, they identified four profiles of their highest performing people (all 4 are linked from the summary page; The Giver, Champ, Matrix Thinker and the Savant).

Two of these overlap for me.

Psychological Profiles of the Dream Team: The Matrix Thinker

“Matrix Thinkers can be some of your most innovative team members: given a flexible, creative environment, they can revolutionize the way your company does business. … a mature Matrix Thinker has their cantankerousness under control, has well-developed people skills, has learned valuable life lessons and can synthesize the inputs they’re constantly taking in from their surroundings.”

Psychological Profiles of the Dream Team: The Savant

“Savants can be some of your highest-performing employees: given the flexibility to follow their routine in a comfortable environment, they can produce top-quality work at an astounding rate. … mature Savants can identify and leverage their talent, and have learned to communicate and work with people effectively …”

Did you follow the links to read the detail blog posts? Why should you?

Each post is about two pages typewritten and covers topics of:

What Makes Them Tick?
What Qualities Do They Have?
Who Are Some Famous People with These Qualities?
What Makes Them Great?
What Challenges Do They Face?
How Do They Perform in Key Roles?
Which Roles Should They Avoid?
How Do You Identify Them in an Interview?

… in short, that “operator’s manual” for these top performing “Dream Team” players.

If you are a manager, this is another opportunity to explore how “we are not all the same”, to understand the value of creating teams with a variety of strengths and how to create the greatest value with those team members.

If you are an HR or HCM professional, how can you bring this notion of “knowing our people to create the greatest value” for your organization (and your people too!)?

I can tell you this, one engagement in a high demand environment earned me an “Excellent” overall review. And yet, much of the work I did was in “roles I should avoid” and in an environment that weakened rather than used my strengths most powerfully. What sorts of “lost opportunities” were there during this time? How might my work be better used to create highly valuable transformation? How long would a person flourish and be content in such a role?

Are there such “only roughly matched” team situations in your organization right this very minute? The probability is high.

Knowing our people is important. I encourage you to read the summary post, then follow the links to each of the Dream Team profiles.

Overall, it will be the equivalent of reading about 10 pages type written. Read, consider and reflect on the material.

Remember this, no matter what you think is at the foundation of your organization’s success, a powerful portion of that foundation is our people. Without great people, well matched in their roles, our chances of great success are greatly reduced.

We owe Don Fornes a debt of gratitude for sharing his work with us. It might just be some of the best time and energy you will invest for months.


When winning … is not defined by the win

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W is for Win-Win

Steven Covey should be given the credit for popularizing an important thought in good management, good business and good human relations:

… we are all stronger and more effective when we strive to accomplish an outcome where we BOTH win.

In his book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he calls this “Win-Win”. He goes on to say that this is so important that the only other outcome highly effective people will go for is either Win-Win … or NO DEAL.

After 4 decades in the world of business and organizations, this notion is validated by my personal experience. It is what works.

When I try to promote this concept with other people, I often get a lot of push back. What about a war or fighting a disease or SPORTS!?

People can be deeply troubled by the thought that you can have more than one winner.

General George S. Patton, JR.:

“When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.”

Vince Lombardi’s comments on the Pro Football “Playoff Bowl”:

Vince Lombardi detested the Playoff Bowl, coaching in the games following the 1963 and 1964 seasons, after winning NFL titles in 1961 and 1962. To his players, he called it “the ‘Sh-t Bowl’, …a losers’ bowl for losers.” This lack of motivation may explain his Packers’ rare postseason defeat in the 1964 game (January 1965) to the St. Louis Cardinals. After that loss, he fumed about “a hinky-dink football game, held in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players. That’s all second place is – hinky dink.”

Woody Hayes (of Ohio State football fame):

“Football represents and embodies everything that’s great about this country, because the United States of America is built on winners, not losers or people who didn’t bother to play.”

With quotes from legendary Americans like that, I suppose it is no wonder that I get the push back with I promote the “Win-Win” philosophy.

Here is a video though, that illustrates that “Winning, is not always defined by the Win”.


In a war, if you want to survive, you’ll “play to win”. I will remind you though, that after WWI, the allies punished Germany severely after losing and it sowed the seeds of disaster in WWII. After WWII, the United States and its allies rebuilt the economies of its former enemies; which then became valued and trusted allies.

When it comes to partnering with human beings, I’m still promoting the Win-Win.

Here is a little piece on Wikipedia about Win-Win:

Embracing criticism

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C is for criticism. C is for challenge.

As a team member, as a manager and as a person, we may all hear criticisms of our work, our actions, our speech, our habits … the fundamentals that form who we are. Such criticism is often hard to hear. Partly because it is uncomfortable to be confronted by our imperfections and, I believe, partly because the truth is recognizable and and not always so welcome to hear.

In a recent PBS documentary on Bill Clinton, he is shown paraphrasing a line from Ben Franklin. Clinton’s quote is “Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults.” The original quote is from Poor Richard’s Almanac (1756); “Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.”

Although often hard to hear, the criticism we receive is the gift of our peers, collegues and managers to us all. Only by facing our imperfections, can we hope to manage our difficulities while we perform with our strengths.

Our challenge, as a great manager or team member, is to deliver criticism in the most productive, constructive manner. The goal is improved performance and greater success. Criticism for its own sake is simply empty, fruitless and unhappy.

How to do this?

As you’ll see in many of my posts on management, I believe that helping our team members be more successful is rooted in understanding the relationship between strengths and challenges (our imperfections).

What is a great strength can often manifest a mirror image of a great challenge.

Consider multi-tasking; the ability to keep our attention on many things at once, ready at a moment’s notice to spring into action if some aspect of many factors begins to go astray. A person with great multi-tasking ability uses their mind to flit from one circumstance to another; hopping around from area to area, constantly pulled along from one item to the next.

The mirror image challenge is staying focused.

If a team member has difficulty staying focused, how can the critique of that challange best be delivered in a way that will be heard and openly considered?

I believe that remembering that challenges are rooted in strengths points the way.

Begin by recognizing the strength.If your team member is great at multi-tasking, say so! Make it clear how that value manifests to help the team accomplish its objectives.

When mentioning the challenge of staying focused, look for ways to draw out possible opportunities to manage that challenge. Perhaps when focus is required, the team member needs some time in a quiet environment or some other way of reducing distractions; possibly turning off the phone ringer, shutting down the instant messaging client or making a list of the priority items that require focus at this time. The manager doesn’t need to be an expert in this area, much of the ideas may come from your team member themselves. The key thing is to recognize the particular challenge and set out in deliberate fashion to manage that challenge.

As a manger, are you assigning work to your team member that plays to their strengths? Assigning work that forces your team member into an area of challenge is only setting up the situation for less than optimum results.

In many years of interacting with human beings in organizations, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has no challenges. Hopefully, they are performing work that draws to their strengths and manage their challenges so that the challenges don’t become performance issues.

It doesn’t hurt to sandwich your discussions of performance; what is going well, challenges to manage and emphasizing positive contributions.

Just because someone has one challenge (or more) is not a reason not to thank them for their positive contributions.

We can show our team members appreciation while at the same time helping them help themselves by looking for ways to manage challenge.

And… if the criticism is coming your way, try to embrace it as a gift to help you see your own performance and find ways to manage your own challenges.

“O would some Power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us! It would from many a blunder free us…”
– Robert Burns (1759-1796, – Scottish poet and lyricist)

Stronger together

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C is for Collaboration

How are important are the skills necessary to have people work together?

Many of us have strengths and can accomplish a lot on our own. Individually, we can do a lot.

If you bring 10 people individually into a room, present each one with the same problem to solve, you can very likely get 10 different ways to solve that problem. From my experience working with groups, 6 or so of the different solutions will be quite workable, perhaps all 6, or even all 10, will be more or less equally good solutions.

If you gather all 10 people at once and facilitate the meeting with good collaboration skills, you’ll often get an even better solution by combining the talents, knowledge and ideas from all 10 into a group solution.

Ever been in a group when one person expresses an idea, and, even though that idea is not adopted, someone in the group hears it and has an important thought triggered by the first idea? Each new thought or bit of experience added to the mix refines, strengthens and improves the final approach.

If … the group is facilitated in an environment of openess, trust and welcoming of ideas and contribution.

We are stronger together than what we can accomplish on our own.

I’m including a YouTube link to a performance of “Stand By Me”. This was created by a world wide collaboration of street musicians; each performing in their own country, separated by time and distance but creating something stronger; together.

Either or … All ?

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A is for All.

There is a concept in project management known as the “project triangle”. Imagine that at each point of the triangle you have Good, Fast and Cheap. The notion is that you can have any 2 of the three but never all three.

Good & fast or fast & cheap or … you choose.

This idea has spread quite widely and is common to hear expressed in meetings when new ideas or initiatives are being discussed. I attended a training couse on ITIL Foundations (Information Technology best practices) and saw this idea surface there as well.

Why do we accept this as dogma or unassailable wisdom?

I believe it has to do with how easy it is, or not, to do any better.
Can we do better than choosing “either or”?

I have seen at least two clear cases where we didn’t have to choose.

Case study #1:

I was working as the CIO of a small start up. We wanted to build a customer data mine that would allow us to explore consumer befavior from those people purchasing our product. We figured if we understood the customers that bought a lot of our product, we might better understand the sort of customer to select for targeted marketing with the highest purchase potential.

The problem was, we had very little money, time or staff to throw at this project. We weren’t completely sure what questions we might want to explore from the data mine so our design had to accomodate a lot of flexibility. It also had to be fast. A year’s worth of business was about 1.6 million records to examine for each new search and at the time, computers were not so inexpensive and not nearly so powerful as today. It also had to be easy. We didn’t want to create a search facility that only a database guru or programmer could operate. It had to be used by our marketing VP with just average technical skills like using Microsoft Word or Excel.

We spent a fair amount of time on design and then began to program. Once we got to test, it became clear that we’d achieved none of our objectives. It was slow, complicated and not very flexible. It was so complicated, that we couldn’t even figure out how to test some of the internals to be sure the answers we got were right! It was clear we would never succeed with this design.

We had about 3 months left of a 9 month project budget. What to do?

We threw all the work in the trash can and started over from scratch. Now, we only had 3 months left to finish. This turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise! Why?

Only a truly simple approach could be designed, tested and placed into use in that short time. Our earlier design had used a traditional, “normalized” database design that ended up joining the contents of 5 tables of data. The need for simplicity forced us to take those tables and join then into a de-normalized flat file once per day. That flat file then allowed us to use the very simple query tool that is built right into Excel. We ran some proof of concept speed tests. The approach proved to be lightening fast!

We showed our marketing VP our new approach and he loved it!

By being forced into a really simple approach, we had done it. We had a design that met all of our objectives: fast, cheap, simple, accurate, easy to program, easy to test, easy to maintain and easy to use!

Why wasn’t this our first design?

I’ve come to believe that what is simple, is not so simple to think through. Human beings, in particular technical human beings, seem to delight in the charm of complicated solutions. The simple approach is rarely the first idea to come forth (and this simple approach was resisted by the technical team). Truly simple approaches only emerge if the team is dedicated (or forced by circumstances) to find simplicity.

Case study #2:

At an ITIL training, we discussed the “either or” nature of the classic compromises faced by teams. It occured to me that almost all of us use a facility that is fast, easy and cheap (completely free, in fact) nearly every day; Google searches.

Fast? …yes! Easy? …yes! Cheap? …completely free!

Now, you could argue the cost is hidden from users because advertisers end up footing the bill. What’s wrong with that? In many cases, the un-intrusive Google text ads are actually helpful to users once they decide to find a source for whatever it is for which they have been searching.

Both the Google search service and the flat-file marketing datamine are examples of thinking “outside-the-box”. Neither, were so simple to think of first.

There are times when we can have it all. You might say, a win-win. Win-win thinkers have to be dedicated to acheiving that win-win state. The win-win is not so often the first solution that presents itself.

We don’t have to live in an “either-or” world. It only seems easier to accept that we might.

We’re not all the same

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I is for Individual

If you read many books on management, you might get the idea that all people are the same. The same “techniques” or “tips on management” will apply equally to all people and all teams.

In your life, how many people have you met that were just like you? People that liked the exact same clothes, food, videos, music, artwork, colors, etc. Not so many, yes?

The members of our teams are like that; different. One may have a great strength of building relationships, one strong in analysis and still another blessed with insightful, big vision. Some like specifics and verified, factual, information. Others like “the big picture” without a lot of details.

Not only that, our team members have different days; tired or rested, happy or sad, grumpy or enthused, etc. One of my managers would ask each day, “How’s it going?”; a pleasant, comfortable way to begin a meeting. It might also be a great way to get a little insight into how that team member is feeling; that day.

Each day, each person may have different needs from their manager or fellow team member(s). We’re not all the same and not all the same all the time. To be a really great team member or manager, we need to understand our team members and understand their unique, individual situations.

In order to communicate a message most thoroughly and effectively, our best advertisers and marketers try to “know their audience”. Great managers and team members will benefit from the same approach.

Know your team members; work at it actively.