July 22nd, 2012
Written by Academy speaker Giles Miskin.
My 21-year-old daughter started her first proper job last Monday and her text reply to my enquiry as to how the first day went was: “Really nice bunch (apart from one complete arse!)”
This came as no surprise to me, as all the teams I’ve ever worked in or led, plus the 100s I’ve worked with at The Colour Works, have always had at least one “complete arse”. And of course, this is always entirely subjective – EVERYBODY can be a “complete arse” to SOMEBODY!
Why is this relevant to “Leading a Winning Team” you may ask? Because if you ignore this fundamental aspect of human nature when you put together a disparate group of individuals, even if they do have an exciting vision and great rewards, the team will never win.
It’s a great concept – team – isn’t it. It makes perfect, logical sense – people’s different skills, opinions and experience combine to achieve more than they could individually. Together Everyone Achieves More.
But the same differences that give a team its supposed strength are the causes for its possible demise. People are naturally drawn towards people they like, and repelled from those they don’t. The “team” can quickly break down into smaller factions that rarely confront each other but talk behind backs, creating ever-widening chasms between “us” (i.e. the ones who I like and are like me) and “them” (i.e. the ones who I don’t and aren’t). “They”, of course, are too aggressive, too laid-back, too nit-picky, too fluffy, too loud, too quiet, too quick, too slow – too absolutely anything that I don’t like!
And the team leader’s seeming unawareness of this chasm and/or their inability or unwillingness to deal with it just makes the situation worse and leaves “us normal people” disengaged and de-motivated. A collaborative team using our complementary skills for the good of the whole? You’ve got to be kidding.
So when in 1999 I became MD of a £7m plastic widget distribution business, I was pretty clear on the importance of getting a great team of people around me and building a culture of openness and honesty so that we would avoid these divisive pitfalls and learn to value our differences, debate heartily, play to each other’s strengths, and win! And of course, if we could show the rest of the company how it was done, no doubt they’d catch on and do the same.
Ha! Anything but!
They were all brilliant at their particular jobs but the FD was an overly ambitious power-dresser with a screechy, condescending tone, unwilling to accept any challenge whilst quick to drive a knife into others. My Purchasing Director was as no-nonsense aggressive as they come, capable of reducing others to tears and seeing no wrong in doing so. My Sales Director was a rather arrogant, flamboyant, big-picture thinker who seemed determined not to follow any established procedures whatsoever. My Technical Director was so analytical he withdrew, when challenged, behind a curtain of techno-speak and lost sight of the commercial reasons for our existence. Whilst we managed to maintain the figures, the atmosphere was dreadful and back-biting was rife, with each of them regularly coming to me to complain about the others. In a word – dysfunctional.
Then my world changed.
I was given an Insights Discovery personal profile and everything started to fall into place. It described me to a tee, warts and all. I understood more about why I was struggling with them as individuals, why that feeling was mutual in some cases, and why they clashed with each other. Having beaten myself up about my inability to lead this team effectively, I regained a sense of perspective. It was just as much about their lack of self-awareness and regard for others as it was my naivety in thinking this leadership game was simple.
And the colour model of behaviour on which it is based was easy to understand, reinforcing what I already knew – that people are different and need managing in different ways – and giving me both a framework within which to understand better the minefield that is relationships and also the tools to do something about it.
I was so impressed with the model (plenty of others available, though of course I believe this to be the best) that I left the job in 2003, qualified in how to use it and set up The Colour Works, a company with the specific aim of helping leaders and teams to:
- Understand themselves and each other better
- Build openness and honesty (about themselves and each other)
- Value their differences rather than let them cause rifts
- Have healthy debate and play to each other’s strengths in a collaborative, openly complementary way
- Challenge each other adult to adult
The Colour Works is now the biggest Insights distributor in the UK and has been for 5 of the last 6 years.
So, my top tip for “leading a winning team” is get the basics right – the key relationships at the top of your organisation on which success depends. Get an external, independent (this is important – no baggage and a fresh pair of eyes) facilitator in (plenty available but The Colour Works I naturally believe to be the best) to help lay the foundations on which your team can become a winning one.
Giles Miskin is Managing Director of The Colour Works – the biggest Insights Discovery distributor in the UK. Colour Works engages with individuals and teams to improve performance through a better understanding of their own behaviours and those of others. www.thecolourworks.com