I had a manager use a Harvard Business article to inform the management team that there were “A” players and “B” players, and we should appreciate and recognize the “B” players on the team. The article warns that “companies’ long-term performance — even survival — depends far more on the unsung commitment and contributions of their B players.”
This was a real turn-off.
Who wants to be called a “B” player, and for that matter, who wants “B” players are their team? The term is used for someone who is not a high performer, the perception is the “B” player puts in the bare minimum or does not have the talent or ability to reach levels of high success.
Then I watched Margaret Heffernan’s TedWomen talk. In a chicken experiment, social scientist William Muir discovered that the productivity of a few was achieved by suppressing the productivity of the rest and it meant death for the chickens in the super-group experiment. Margaret’s congruent message resonated with me more and I finally had clarity because I had the “why”.
Margaret’s message was that the Steve-Job-type superstars are not long-lasting solutions as this can lead to “pecking to death”, an internal destruction. Rather, we should look to building a culture of helpfulness and connectivity to generate productivity and innovation.
What leads to social connectedness?
Have you ever been on a team where you are afraid to ask a question because you are afraid that you will be shunned as “stupid”? Maybe that same team is so inhospitable that you feel like an outsider even though you have been working in that group for nine months.
The teams that I have been on that have been highly successful and rewarding are ones where I feel welcome, noticed, visible, and valuable. When I am battling with something difficult, are others so wrapped-up in their own work that they fail to notice? Do they avoid me? Or do they take the time to ask questions and potentially even strategize solutions with me?
High performing teams are able to do great work because they work together, support one another, and create a better product through collaboration, challenge and supported risk-tasking.
Consistent, non-dominant work
We cannot be successful if there are some that expect a “free-ride”. This was the “B” player I was originally envisioning. Someone whom expected others to do the difficult work, showed up late, left early. However, consistent results by an individual (perhaps one that is not making quantum leaps) can be the bread-and-butter of your internal group. Think of the person that is dependable, always on-time, whom will meet your expectation. That person is a trusted colleague and makes your life easier at work.
Equally, we cannot be successful if there is domination in the group so that there is not equal time, but rather, a dictation-down approach. Some of the best ideas at companies I have worked for have come from interns because they are (a) exposed to cutting edge technology and practices and (b) they have never tried and failed before so they are willing to take risks. However, if these young professionals are met with “we always do it this way” or “we tried something similar and it didn’t work”, then we will do what we have always done and get what we have always got.
I have a friend at work that invites me to be myself without exclusion. The leaning of our political and religious views differ, but she fosters our work relationship with warmth and curiosity. She is a center of calm. She has clarity of purpose and I adore her. She has changed my view on topics in the past couple of years that has made me a better manager. Through her challenges, I am more well-rounded. And as a result, after holidays when I might dread coming back to work, I look forward to returning and seeing her face.
Having someone who challenges your unconscious biases, who clues you into your blindspots is an invaluable asset. Finding those that make you think in new ways are those that spark innovation and creativity on projects. These varying viewpoints help us think of solutions in a different ways. When everyone is arguing for “a” or “b”, this person suggests “c” which revolutionizes the process.
Embracing Collaborative Teams
We are all leaders. There are defined leaders (directors, managers, VPs), and there are team-leads, scrum masters, moms and dads, those that step up when the going-gets-tough. Whether you are addressing your team at work, in a volunteer capacity, from a family and friendship perspective surround yourself with those that have empathy, a good work ethic, and are a blend of perspectives. If we do so, we will find ourselves with teams that are successful, innovative and a joy to be a part of.