March 16, 2017
Special Snowflakes - Bringing Unique Individuals Together As a Team

As I gazed out my window Tuesday morning, staring at heavy snowfall hitting at this late winter date, it caused me to ponder how each person we manage is unique and special in their own way. A “special snowflake” if you will. While each one is important, sometimes trying to move them collectively -  think shoveling -  can be a real difficulty. I've always liked to think that managing unique characters is a great leadership challenge. How boring would it be if everyone that you managed was exactly the same?!

In a perfect world, every manager would invest time learning the personality characteristics and motivators of each of their team members. We all know that when we take the care to do this, and lead this way, we ultimately create the most engaging and productive environment for each team member to thrive in. And while we learn this is an important management skill, it’s often hard to tackle on a daily basis. When you have a small team and a manageable work load, it’s like facing a dusting of snow covering your deck. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get out there and enjoy the fresh air and exercise while you exert limited energy investing in accomplishing your goal. When things get more complex -  think larger team, tight project deadlines, varying team styles -  it can often feel like you are managing in a blizzard, and you don’t even know where to start digging with your shovel.

Read on for three ideas to get ahead of the blizzard with your own team.

Seek To Understand

Everyone is unique and different in the way they work, need to be led, etc. If you are applying a one-size-fits-all style to how you manage the team, you are likely creating an environment that allows some to thrive; and some team members to struggle. There are a variety of tools and personality type indicators such as Predictive Index or Myers Briggs that can serve as useful guides. There are also a variety of quick and dirty free assessments available on line. Select one you feel is insightful, ask team members to participate (don’t forget to explain why!) and ask them to bring the results to your next one-on-one. It can serve as a great starting point to learn about how best to coach and lead them to greatness. Of course, the most inexpensive and readily available method is working directly with the person and just being open about things. Asking questions like “how do you best like to be rewarded?” and “how do you best receive feedback?” goes a long way to increasing both your management effectiveness and their engagement.

Take Time To Bond

Sometimes I look at my team and feel like I’m managing through a live version of the Breakfast Club. So many different personalities, all coming together to learn and collaborate together. When we are aligned and achieving, there is nothing as satisfying. And yet, there are moments when our own quirky individual personalities take over, and it can veer us of course a bit if we haven’t invested the time in building the relationships that sustain us through those bumps. Take the time to bond as a team outside of the daily work grind. Whether it’s the shared experience of eating lunch together once a week, or finding a neutral activity everyone enjoys participating in (Bowling? Cocktails after work?). Invest the time and energy. It doesn’t have to cost a lot; the goal is to connect as human beings.

Embrace the Shovel

While it makes logical sense as to why our teams need different skill sets to get the work done, I’ll make the case for diverse personalities as well. Each of us see the world through our own lens. When we come together as a team, we each bring that lens to the group. If you are building a strong team, a great manager and leader will use those different experiences and lenses to build on one another; finding synergies rather than roadblocks. More to the point, a strong manager will use each person’s unique personality to ensure optimal team performance. This diversity of thought and style is vital to team success. Why? Because when you identify the individual gifts each person brings to the team, you can harness those strengths to create an optimal outcome.

Remember the Chicago Bulls in the 90s? Michael Jordan, one of the best players of all time, was an exceptional competitor. His skill alone didn’t bring the team to championships, however. Add in the color of Dennis Rodman, the brilliant teaming of Scottie Pippen and the vision and guidance of their coach Phil Jackson pulling it all together – that’s what created true team success.

Creating high performing teams isn’t easy. Much like shoveling in a snowstorm, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. Moving to a warm climate might seem appealing sometimes, but nothing beats the satisfaction of grabbing a shovel and cleaning your deck. When you invest the time and energy truly getting to know each of your people, and then bringing all those “special snowflakes” together, you aim to create a beautiful winter wonderland that everyone can enjoy.

Just don’t forget to sit back and enjoy a cup of cocoa for a moment when they achieve great things.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.

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