I went out for the Track team my freshman year in high school. The coach said that they needed more hurdlers and more distance runners. In my mind, going “Cross Country” should involve a car, a snowmobile or some other vehicle – not just my legs. So I became a Hurdler.
As the group of new Hurdlers gathered to face our event, we seemed to sort ourselves out based on our approaches. There were those renegades who just barreled ahead before we even got form and stride instructions. There were the “I’ll go if you go” group that ran together. They were still on the bold side – but only in numbers.
There were those (including me) that would run up to the first hurdle a few times and stop before actually getting over the gate. Once we got over that first one, we were fine.
And then there were the really reluctant ones. These were the ones that practiced form and stride and timing over and over and over. They repeatedly adjusted count, pace and sometimes even their lead leg. They were the last to hit the hurdles – and even then acted as though they were forced to do so against their better judgment.
We all made it over. There were some less than graceful falls, a few scraped legs, and comical form in general. But there was also a group of 15 year old girls that had done something that they had never done before. It wasn’t pretty – but each of us got to know ourselves a little better that day.
I think of that day sometimes when I’m in a project. A solid project team ideally has a good mix of staff – and all of the personalities and approaches that come with them. A successful project team utilizes the plusses of those differences to the advantage of the overall mission – while minimizing the minuses.
How and to what extent you leverage each of these personalities can influence the outcome and the overall experience of the project in a pretty big way. Here are some of the approaches that I frequently see:
Runaway Renegades Runaway Renegades are a great addition to a project because they are anxious to jump in and go. That kind of forward motion energy is great to have – and can sometimes nudge forward those less willing to move so they don’t get left behind. They also seem to take new challenges as adventures to conquer. The risks with the Renegades are that they may barrel ahead without some level of investigation or planning which can cause problems later – and sometimes rework.
Partners in Crime Those that will move forward (if they have a partner) are also great at getting others on board. These aren’t going to be the team members that will take point on an initiative, but they tend to be really good at digging in on team efforts. The only drawback with them is that they sometimes underestimate what they can contribute on their own.
Reluctant Runners These tend to be your detail people. These are the people that you can rely upon to understand every angle, risk and potential outcome of an effort. Unfortunately, they are also the most challenging to get started (because they can become consumed with knowing every angle, risk and outcome). Once you get them going, though, they can be some of your best resources.
Of course your team members may fall into different categories at different times in a project depending on their experiences and where they see their strengths. So how finding the balance can be tricky. When I think of these roles, here is what I usually see that they like or are comfortable with (and also what they don’t want):
Runaway Renegade – They like action, new challenges (I’d prefer to get the pain over quickly, I’ll figure it out as I go)
Partner in Crime – They prefer safety in numbers (I want to try this, but I’m not willing to risk it alone)
Reluctant Runner – They like mitigating risk through information (if I know everything, I won’t fail and I can create a great outcome)
The key is to mix the roles up in such a way that the overall team benefits from the balance. Two things that seem to help are Timing and Communication.
Timing – Staggering the involvement of the team can be a good way to complement them. Getting your Reluctant Runners started a little early will give them some of the analysis time that they like. Introducing the Runaway Renegades next can get the Reluctant Runners moving, but arm the Renegades with some information that they might have left behind if they took the lead. Partners in Crime can quickly follow since there are others already in motion.
Communication – Runaway Renegades often like to see progress. So communicating how far they’ve come, how many milestones they’ve hit can be motivating for them. Reluctant Runners are frequent fans of risk mitigation plans – so keeping those updated maintains visibility to risks (especially risk elimination through progress) helps. Partners in Crime may not like to be called out on their own – but may prefer things from a team or a task perspective.
At HL Group, our solutions are centered on getting the most out of assets. While a team isn’t typically the type of asset we work with, we know that our team is our most important one that we have – quirks and all. And it’s always a worthwhile investment to improve your approach with them.
Are there other roles you see or approaches that you use in your organization? I’d love to hear about it. Let’s talk.
Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile asset inventory management and warehouse solutions. She manages our client engagements, works with Wes on sales and marketing and now only jumps metaphorical hurdles.