Monday, January 18, 2016

Must Be A Team Deviant?

The best way to get individuals to behave well in a group is to do a good job of setting up and supporting the group itself. A healthy group promotes competent member behavior; a sick group invites all manner of bizarre individual behaviors - which, ironically, can then be used to explain the problems of the group as a whole.  - J. Richard Hackman

Perhaps the most often mentioned requirement of domestic service jobs, everywhere, "must be a team player" has become so ingrained into our language and job descriptions, that we hardly ever think about what a team really, um, well... is. I believe that what all these line item mentions for "team player" really are, though, is the employer mostly wants someone kinda friendly, someone who generally gets along well with others, and someone who smiles and frequently says things like please and thank you. All good, I say, yet it's a far toss from the discussions of teams, so my proposal would be for these advertisers to either change the wording in their ads to plainly state what's really being asked for, or take the time to study and enact that which is required for a real team to develop on their estate.

I was fortunate to have as required reading, J. Richard Hackman's Leading Teams, while at University of San Francisco, and doubly so after I learned it'd made the reading list of Stanford Professor Bob Sutton, whose own writings I've enjoyed over the years; the book is widely regarded both in and outside of academia as the best treatise on all things teamsTeams, as we discover in quick order through Hackman's research and expertise (and sometimes through our own experience and expertise, given enough time and opportunity) are purposefully built entities which are then maintained and given mindful support to the highest order - not simply a bunch of folks who are randomly thrown together in a room (or on an estate) along with some wishful thinking and the occasional, well-meant battle cry of "let's go, team!". 

If the Ferarri California-T was human, it would be a team.
Well, my own mindfulness tends to process concepts through visual metaphors and the very first time I watched the Ferrari California-T video, I immediately thought of teams because, actually, that's just what a team is... a purposefully built work of art, one that is just large enough to get the job done and precisely engineered, requiring some very thoughtful maintenance and handling with each part and action having some very specific purposes to create the total user experience... an experience which deviates from the norm, one which is not some big soft cushy ride, yet one which provides shameless feedback though the seat of your pants in every twist and turn, one which lets you know precisely what is happening at any given time throughout the entire machine, whether you'd want to know about it or not. To disregard this concept, though, seems to be what causes a lot of disappointment for all parties in domestic service environments, as we're then left with a collection of individual parts, broken down and rusting in the driveway - or the staff break room - as the case may be.

No doubt that real teams actually require engaging in very focused and hard work, with many misconceptions about teams keeping the good ones from ever being formed in the first place, and team leadership often coming from some quite unlikely places and circumstances - all worth giving credit to and all worth studying to better understand and put forth, where we may understand, alas, the oft-misunderstood and wholly underrated... team deviant.

And, like the Ferarri California-T, the real thing is neither built overnight nor on the fly, yet only through the relentless dedication to being... the real thing.  Real team perfection also comes from some unlikely places, as Hackman noted in his Harvard Business Review interview:

Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity, which can stifle creativity and learning. Deviants are the ones who stand back and say, “Well, wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all? What if we looked at the thing backwards or turned it inside out?” That’s when people say, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s ridiculous,” and so the discussion about what’s ridiculous comes up. Unlike the CFO I mentioned before, who derailed the team by shutting down discussions, the deviant opens up more ideas, and that gets you a lot more originality. In our research, we’ve looked carefully at both teams that produced something original and those that were merely average, where nothing really sparkled. It turned out that the teams with deviants outperformed teams without them. In many cases, deviant thinking is a source of great innovation.
Every team needs a deviant, someone who says, “Why are we even doing this at all?”
I would add, though, that often the deviant veers from the norm at great personal cost. Deviants are the individuals who are willing to say the thing that nobody else is willing to articulate. The deviant raises people’s level of anxiety, which is a brave thing to do. When the boat is floating with the current, it really is extraordinarily courageous for somebody to stand up and say, “We’ve got to pause and probably change direction.” Nobody on the team wants to hear that, which is precisely why many team leaders [ read: Estate Managers, Household Managers, Directors of Residences, Chiefs of Staff, et al ] crack down on deviants and try to get them to stop asking difficult questions, maybe even knock them off the team. And yet it’s when you lose the deviant that the team can become mediocre.
Although I always recommend people buy the real book instead of just test-driving the summary, please read HBR's excellent interview with Hackman shortly after his publication, one which brings out the high points and, hopefully, encourages you to fully read and benefit from the book, itself, and to then build your very own - real team

And by including, of course... your very deviant!