Teal Captain #3 - Team fanatic

I once declared to my team that I would like to make it the best one in the organisation. Even though such words are bold and ultimately you may not reach the goal, it’s good to always be oriented towards the team, fostering the growth of its members and tightening the bonds between them. Essentially you have to believe that they can become the best of the best, and your role is to allow them to unleash their full potential. In reality however, often teams are a collective of different personalities, skills, virtues and vices. You just add to the mix. Yet, I believe that it’s still possible to become fanatical about your team members and I’d like to share an idea to inspire you.

Getting the best out of everyone

My grand-grandfather was a professor of astronomy and a scientist. People, who had the opportunity to get to know him claimed that it was not his work that made him unique, but his ability to identify a person’s strength, some sort of character trait that they were often unaware of and he helped them discover it. I don’t know how he ultimately managed to do it, but I’m pretty sure that it had to do a lot how he looked at people. He focused on the positives, assumed good intentions and didn’t let his first impression and superstitions ever overshadow the virtues a person could possibly have.

In reality it’s a lot harder than it looks. We quickly learn that our team is far from perfect and they learn the same about us. It’s easy to focus on what people can’t do and need to work on instead of exercising their core strengths and the value they bring to the team. This is often due to the fact, that we subconsciously focus on the things that we think need fixing or we just find them annoying. Being aware of it restores our control and allows us to stop ourselves whenever we tend to drift into such territory.

It’s worth understanding that I’m not telling you to stop being critical about the people you work with. What I’m trying to convey here is the fact that we often know each other’s weaknesses, but fail when asked about strengths and the way to apply them across the team.

Individuals need tailored roles

Becoming more aware of the team members is one thing, but I believe leaders need to deliver more than that. Often companies have well defined rules and requirements for career progression. We are placed within a frame of reference and we need to fit to grow in our role or be ready to take up another one. This works for the majority of people, but it’s worth noting that it does not fit every single person. Such people may exhibit strengths, which surpass the requirements in one area, but fail within an other. I went through the process both myself and with my team members. It’s not very pleasant to know that you may end up missing a promotion only because you’re just not born with some traits required to excel in a certain area. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on it, but we all know that sometimes we just don’t even want to progress in a certain direction. Imagine - if you’re highly technical or code oriented, making public presentations may just not be your thing. I’m not saying that you should not get out of the comfort zone or even be gently pushed out of it. What I mean is that forcing someone who just freaks out if they have to go on stage may not be the best use of their talent. Also, someone who is not emphatic may not make the best leader. Sometimes that can be overcome, other times not so much. Setting such a requirement for someone’s career progression (unless it’s strongly tied to the role), may be counterproductive leading to frustration of both the employee and the leader. One will be unable to grow and the other, sticking to such strict requirement may risk losing a perfectly well performing team member.

Managing talents means looking outside of the frame of reference. Once you’re able to identify one’s talents it’s important to keep looking for ways to apply them within and beyond the team. If a developer is well organised and does a good job of time boxing, maybe allow them to run some of the meetings themselves. Maybe someone’s not very diligent in code reviews, but has a great ability to find issues in every single idea. Allow them to apply this skill - you will most certainly need someone who will question your team’s ideas to make sure that you’re not overly enthusiastic and pursuing the impossible.

Believe in others!

You as a leader should be held responsible of providing the space for people to apply their talents. You should also question the status quo whenever you feel that it’s detrimental to the growth of your team. Question hard-wired rules if they make your members unable to progress in their career. Discuss and alter frames of reference if your developers don’t quite fit them - seek other ways to allow them to be paid proportionally to their skills and value they provide to the company and the team.

All of that will not however be possible if you’re not fanatical about the team. If you don’t trust and rely on every single member and question the team’s capabilities, you can surely do better. Even if the team is not yet in it’s best shape, look at it as if it were. Being the best means believing that you can be best. And if you don’t believe it yourself, how can you possibly lead the team to thinking so?

I feel that I’m part of the best team that I could imagine. We’re not the best, we may never be, but I’ll be relentless in pursuing the goal of getting there, on growing, developing and getting better every day. That’s the non-written contract I have with the team and as long as I’m part of it, you have my word that I’ll fanatically follow and trust it’s members that every day they’re making the most of themselves to make things happen. And so do I.