Friday, February 8, 2013

Synergy's benefit - and its price

Whether it's the topic of team performance, business partnerships, or even of marriage, the question that coaches are often asked is "Is it better to be similar to one another or different from one another?"  As is the case with many other big questions, the best first answer is "It depends."

It may be easiest to explore this with a specific example.  An intact work team was surveyed to determine what its primary motivators are (among other things).  The intention behind the survey was to look at the output to help to determine a focus for the team's core values, to allocate team resources in the most effective way, and to assist the team in recruiting individuals who would best compliment the team dynamic and the business's strategic direction.  Here is the output for the team:

You can see that the highest motivator (Value) for the team is Economic(second column), followed by Individualistic (third column).  This team as a whole wants to know that effort is going to result in a payoff of some sort, and they also want to be unique in how they go about doing it. Next in priority of values is Theoretical, meaning that the team as a whole likes to learn, and knowledge even for its own sake is motivating.

The picture changes, however, when you look at the individual scores:

Although Economic motivation is big in the company overall, one person doesn't give two hoots about it (see the aqua line in the second column.)  The team-based leaning toward Individualistic is largely the result of two individuals (see the purple and the orange in the third column) - other people in the company are more closely collected at a lower level.  And the motivational impact of Theoretical is spread all over the place.

The team leadership might decide that it's important to draw the outliers into closer conformance with the rest of the team, or they might decide to select future team members with similar values.  If they determine instead that the diversity in motivators is important and beneficial, the team leadership will need to vary their management approaches to align each individual's motivation.

This team has the potential for some fundamental conflict in Altruistic (motivated by the good of society as a whole) category shown in the 5th column.  A couple of people really care about it, and they, by the way, are two of the most senior individuals on the team.  A couple of other individuals don't value it much at all.  The motivators themselves are important, but in a hierarchical setting certain individuals' values might be more "valuable" than others'.

It might be easier to be on a team (or in a relationship) where individual profiles are identical.  When motivators are similar it’s easier to understand where the other person is coming from, and to predict their behavior.  That can reduce stress.  On the other hand, team members who are similar will also tend to share blind spots, and that can prove to be risky for the team.  Synergy, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, occurs when all bases are covered by someone on the team.  Diversity helps synergy happen.

Productive communication among team members becomes a critical success factor in capitalizing on mental diversity, because time and space need to be provided in which the team can seek different perspectives on problems and opportunities, and settle differences as they occur.

Values don't operate in a vacuum - context is a relevant overlay for the assessment of fit versus non-fit.  Certain job roles (fully-commissioned sales, for example) are structured around motivational assumptions.  Salesperson compensation typically assumes that an individual is motivated by money, and will therefore pursue new business in order to have higher personal earnings.

Context is also important for a team.  If the team is in the midst of a new product offering, for instance, and one individual is highly tuned in to all things Aesthetic, that individual is the appropriate go-to person to make sure that the product is visually pleasing to the customer.  Otherwise the highly Economically motivated might be tempted to cut corners in order to make more profit, to the extent that they don't include some niceties that are very important to customers' sensibilities.

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