Teaming and the Myth of Weak Links

Posted by Brooke Baker on Oct 16, 2015 1:07:11 PM
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The myth that team members are weak links

In this series of blog posts we'll share some of our research and insights into four myths about teaming: luck; weak links; zero conflict; and success is the deliverable. Today, we're talking about weak links.

We’ve all had moments where we’ve felt like someone on our team is a weak link, that due to lack of experience or skill set, he or she is hindering the team’s progress on a project. Or, worse yet, we’ve looked around the team members and felt like we were the one holding the team back. But the science and research on teaming don’t back this up. In narrow, isolated instances, the differences in skills and approach can be frustrating and lead to exasperation, but this diversity is actually what makes great teams successful.

Not everyone will contribute an equal amount to each project, but the idea that a team member who lacks specific skills related to a project is automatically a “weak link” is a myth. If you’re a software engineer and your team is developing an app, it could feel like the marketing person is unnecessary for most of the project’s development, while you and your fellow engineers are plugging in line after line of code. And while she will not all of sudden learn C++ and start debugging, it’s precisely for that reason that the marketing person on your team can be helpful. Eventually, this app is going to pass out of the hands of engineers and into the hands of people who aren’t tech experts and don’t know the programming language that makes it run – people just like your marketing teammate. Having her input as you build the app can help you understand how people are hoping to use it, and showing her the build process can help her communicate what it can do when that app eventually hits the market.

When we’re running workshops for clients to improve their productivity, we teach that building a great team means understanding how everyone can contribute at different steps in the process. Because someone lacks a certain perspective, experience, or skill set doesn’t make them a weak link, it makes them different. And diversity is one of the markers of successful teams. There are a few projects that are straight forward, with clear directions and all you have to do is follow them for the project to succeed. But almost always something happens that throws your process off, and the clear plans that you had need to be adjusted. In these times of sudden change, contracted budgets, and moving deadlines, those perceived weak links could provide just the strength you need. A teammate who has worked with a tight budget in a prior, unrelated, job, or who used to work in accounting and knows someone there who can process a budget request, can help you navigate the unexpected. Just because you don’t see someone’s name, position, or skill set in an original project outline doesn’t mean that he or she (or you!) is superfluous to the project’s advancement. 

To ensure you're using all the resources your team has to offer, use these three questions to help you figure out how each member of your team can contribute and when he/she should be engaged:

  • The people who have been working most closely on this project feel as though it is finished, but does it make sense to someone on my team who hasn't been intimately involved from the start?
  • We hit an obstacle that we can't figure out. Do any of my teammates have a prior experience – related to this project or not – that could offer an approach, tactic, or connection that can help us with this hurdle?
  • Before we wrap the project, has everyone on the team had a chance to voice his or her honest opinion about any improvements we can make?

Take stock of your team and what everyone has to offer. You never know from where on your team that great idea will come.

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Topics: Teamwork, Workshops and Training