With Martin G. Moore

Episode #40

Building a Balanced Team: If you want to win, all players need to be strong

Although building a balanced team can be a tricky proposition, all really successful teams have a balance of skills, capabilities, and experience. As NFL Analyst, Greg Rosenthal put it:

“Every season has a different shape – every game is different. Eventually, you will need every aspect of the roster to finish the season as champions.”

What does it take to build a balanced team? How would you know what the balance of your team is right now? This episode presents some ideas for how to understand your team balance, and five steps for building a plan to improve.

We also promised a link to Liz Burton’s article on unconscious bias, which you can download here.

Download the Reflection Questions for free below! These are absolute gold, so take the time to go through them and find out how balanced your team really is.


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Episode #40 Building a Balanced Team: If you want to win, all players need to be strong

Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.

Hey there, and welcome to Episode 40 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This week’s episode, Building a Balanced Team: If you want to win all players need to be strong.

Building a balanced team is a tricky proposition. We’re limited by a number of factors that push us towards homogeneity, or in other words, having a team where people look pretty much the same. In this episode we’re going to explore some of the reasons why it’s so important to find balance in the team you build and then some of the ways you can set about doing this. We’ll start by exploring what makes a really good team and why team balance is so important. I’ll take a brief look at the two of the primary limitations that prevent us from building balance into our team. We’ll cover five ways to ensure we do our upmost to find the balance we need, and I’ll finish off with a bunch of reflection questions that you can ask yourself to evaluate your team balance and capability. This will be available as a free worksheet that you can download from the Your CEO Mentor website. So, let’s get into it.

I started thinking about teams and team fit again just recently after coming across a great quote in an article I was reading. Gregg Rosenthal, an NFL analyst in the US, was writing a few months ago about the unrivalled success of the New England Patriots football team. You see, I couldn’t wait to get that in again, right? But he made the point that, while not necessarily original, was couched in a really interesting way. In talking about the ability of teams to thrive in one of the most competitive environments on the planet he said, and I quote,

“Every season has a different shape, every game is different, and eventually you’ll need every aspect of the roster to finish the season as champions.”

This got me to thinking, I’ve probably never seen a team in the corporate environment with the type of balance that Rosenthal described. However, it highlighted that as organisations go through different phases and different challenges, different team members with different capabilities come into their own at different times.

So, let’s look at an example and I’ve got to say this is one of my favourites, because I’ve gone into roles were the organisation is so distressed and so broken that it requires serious remedial work. Now, I like the analogy of the hospital. So when first in the organisation it’s like being a doctor in an emergency room. This is where you’re just trying to keep patients on the right side of the ledger of life and death. In this scenario, you’re using all your energy and focus to keep patients alive. You are literally placing your fingers on arteries to stop the patients from bleeding out. While you’re doing this, there’s not much opportunity to think about bedside manner, patient care, and dealing sensitively with the loved ones in the waiting room.

However, these things are still important and as time goes on and the patient hopefully progresses through the intensive care unit, and then into long-term recovery and care, the focus shifts and these other things become even more important. You move from the ruthless efficiency of the emergency theatre to the longer-term focus of patient rehabilitation. It’s difficult to find individuals, though, who can readily cover the spectrum of required states from ruthless efficiency to caring and nurturing, and this is why we rely upon a team. Not simply to provide a vast range of skills and capabilities required, but also the different levels of emotional maturity that are required to get the whole job done.

You may have heard the popular theory that different times require different types of leadership. For example, Winston Churchill was described as a ‘Wartime Prime Minister’ and they talk about CEO’s in the same vein, as either turn-around CEO’s or growth CEO’s or steady state CEO’s, whatever that means. I worked out years ago that I’m best suited to the environment of turn-around. What does this mean in your organisation? What are the array of situations that you need to be able to traverse? How adaptable are your people to cover all these situations? Who on your team do you call upon for different reasons in different situations? Or is our go-to person always the same person? How many options do you have to address different situations, scenarios, and environments?

There are two primary limitations that prevent us from building balance into our teams. The first of these is the market and the second is ourselves. Let’s talk about the market first. I’ve spoken before about the limitations of the employment market in ‘Building a High Performing Team‘. You will only be able to access the pool of candidates that are specific to your organisation type, industry, geographic location size, remuneration potential, and so forth. For some organisations and certain industries, the gene pool is naturally deep and high quality. For others, unfortunately, it’s rather shallow.

Over time we become accustomed to seeing a certain type of individual, a certain type of gender, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic background and so forth. We then narrow our focus to what exists in this pool, and we don’t naturally see creative ways to expand the available pool of candidates. This is all about creativity, so unless we’re aware of what we’re seeing in the market, and coming up with strategies and innovative ways to deal with it, we’re going to end up with the pool we’ve got.

The second limiting factor is ourselves. Typically, people tend to settle for what they’ve got and they don’t like to change it. So we tend to accept the fact that some people leave, some people stay, and our turnover rate is what it is, and that’s something that we can’t influence. This is ridiculous. We’ve got to remember there are two types of turnover. Desirable turnover and undesirable turnover. Most leaders only experience what I like to call random turnover. They get a little bit of both. There’s a cliché that says, “People don’t leave organisations. They only leave bosses.” This, in a way, is quite true, but the point I’d like to make is if we as leaders don’t work actively on making sure that the right people stay and the wrong people go, we end up only hiring when someone decides to leave of their own accord and, in many cases, this is a net negative on the quality of our gene pool.

For lazy leaders it’s a lot easier to accept the team the way it is than to diligently set a high standard, manage performance, and then challenge, coach, and confront the individuals to bring out their best. There are a million ways to rationalise the position of keeping everything the way it is and not rocking the boat, but that won’t take you to a better balanced team. That requires thoughtful and deliberate decisions over a long period of time. One of the other limiting factors that holds us back that corporate leaders are now learning to wrestle with is unconscious bias. This is all about self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Hi guys. Em here. This is just a quick save the date, as we’re opening Leadership Beyond the Theory for enrollment on Monday the 17th of June. With only a hundred and fifty places open for our July cohort, and just over 70 leaders already preregistered, missing out on this cohort could effectively put your career progression back by eight months, as we’re not running another cohort until next year.

We asked one of our March cohort students, Rodger, what the key differences were between just listening to the podcast and doing the leadership Beyond the Theory Program. This is what he had to say:

“Probably the depth and the breadth of the Leadership Beyond The Theory program, so beneath each of the modules there are those underlying themes that get teased out and there are relevant examples, so while there are a couple of those same examples in the podcast, there’s way more of them in the program, and it means that there’s always one or two that are going to resonate with you in your own personal circumstances. It also makes you dedicate time to it. Once I committed to the program, I made sure that I had time booked out in my diary so that I could sit down and focus on going through the videos. Then I would pause scenes and I would write notes and actually implement, whereas with the podcast it’s on the way to work, when I’m walking around, or just grabbing things and I’m not completely committed and focused on the learnings.”

Join the pre-register list at www.youceomentor.com/register and you’ll get first dibs on a place before we open to the public. Enjoy the rest of this episode, and I encourage you take advantage of the free download for this week. The reflection questions that Marty has put together are absolute gold.

Let’s talk about a few ways to ensure we do our utmost to find the balance that we need in our people. I’m going to cover off on five things, and we’ll close that with a set of reflection questions that you can ask yourself to keep yourself honest. The first thing is seek out soft skills as well as hard skills. Now, particularly at lower levels in organisations, we tend to look only at the technical or hard skills that an employee has. We give far too little credence to core skills like communication, planning, organising, collaborating and decision making.

In the balanced team, you need a bit of everything. For example, we were just talking about decision making. If your team is full of super decisive people with an unconscious bias for action, then decisions can be made precipitously, sometimes with quite severe consequences. On the other hand, if your team is full of consensus-oriented collaborators, nothing ever gets done, but of course everyone knows all the reasons why it’s not.

The second thing is we need to be conscious of those natural biases I just mentioned, so here’s just a couple of examples. The first one that we all suffer from is affinity bias. We naturally gravitate toward people like ourselves, people with similar values, similar world views, and similar backgrounds. What as leaders we need to think more about when we’re building a team is what we are not rather than what we are. We’re trying to fill the gaps that we naturally have in ourselves and in the team around us to make sure that we complement those skills with something different. The trick is don’t try to replicate your capability, work hard to complement it.

One of the other natural biases we have is halo effect. This is where we take a strength in one area of someone’s performance and attribute that strength to other areas of the same individual’s performance without any real justification or evidence for doing so. This can lead us to complacency. We think our capability is sufficient across the team when the reality is that there are gaping holes that we are blissfully unaware of. I came across a really good article from Liz Burton about the role of unconscious bias in the hiring process, and I’ll leave a link to this in the show notes.

The third way to building better balance in your team is to look beyond the conventional hire. I talk sometimes about creativity and lateral thinking in the hiring process. Don’t just look to tick the boxes in the position description. Look for the underlying capabilities. Can they adopt and assimilate complex new concepts readily? This is all about their intelligence. Do they have excellent people skills? Or in other words, their emotional intelligence. And are they very resilient and cope extremely well with pressure? This resilience is sometimes measured as adversity quotient, or AQ. The ability to thrive in complex organisations relies on a balance of IQ, EQ, and AQ, so it’s worth making sure your team members all have at least a smattering of each.

Some of your very best technical minds who, by the way, might be an essential part of your team, may lack people skills, so I guess you better have some balance to ensure someone on your team has those skills and can represent the techos when required.

Number four, beware the weak players. Talking about balance is one thing but a weak player is still a weak player, and you can’t justify holding a weak player on the bases that they bring something different. That’s not what I’m talking about. You still have to set a high bar for performance regardless. Now I know this is sometimes a tough call, and it’s not the obvious under performers that are the worst, it’s the borderline cases. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a borderline executive who on their day can be excellent, but can also be disastrous. For me, it used to make me feel schizophrenic. One day I’m convinced I need to sack them, the next I think they’ve got some strong intrinsic value, but if they’re inconsistency is a killer for you as the boss, imagine what it’s like for their peers and their own team.

Number five, work out what people’s underlying superpower is. Now, an executive who worked for me a number of years ago was really good at this. She was good at this one thing. In the small team she ran, she worked out what each of her people had as their superpower. For example, one person may have been a logistic scheduler, but also had sensational skills in putting together presentation slide decks. So, apart from the formal role, she created informal roles on the team for each of those people. So, for example, Christine is our logistics scheduler but she’s also awesome at presentations, so if anyone on the team has to put a presentation together, please go to Christine for some advice and guidance before you go too far. That worked really well in the team.

Let’s just finish off with some questions to help you reflect on your team balance. At the end of this episode, you can download these questions to help you evaluate where you’re at at the moment and what you might like to change to improve your team balance. You can download this at www.yourceomentor.com/episode40. Here’s the questions. So, first of all, rate your overall team capability and performance on a scale from one to 10. Be honest with yourself. Don’t bullshit yourself. Don’t bullshit me. Make sure you do this properly.

How well do you understand your team capability on an individual basis? What’s the team turnover rate since you’ve been in charge? You need to break this down, of course, into desirable and undesirable turnover. Do you know what new capabilities will be required going forward? If you could add or grow three capabilities to your team, what would they be? How much diversity of thought and opinion do you have in your team?

Rate, on a continuum, once again a one to 10 scale’s pretty cool here. What’s your balance like? Male versus female? Percentage fit to your own style, culture, belief system and thinking? By the way, lower is better here, for the most part. Introvert versus extrovert? Technical versus leadership skills? Task orientation versus people orientation? Resilient people versus brittle people, let’s call them. Backroom toilers versus extroverted people influencers? Action oriented people versus procrastinators? Initiators versus finishers? And, big picture versus detail oriented people?

Who are the weakest performers, and are they ale to meet the performance standard you’re setting? If you could start with a blank sheet of paper and a magic wand, what type of team would you build to be successful in your current environment? Once you’ve worked out what team you’d like, how closely does this resemble the team that you already have? Do team members rely on each other for support or do they basically stay in their own lane? What unconscious biases are you likely to suffer from from time to time? Think about gender bias, attribution bias, affinity bias, confirmation bias, conformity bias, halo effect, and so forth.

So let’s wrap this up. Building a balanced team requires thought. It takes care to understand what skills and capabilities you need and what underlying attributes and behaviours will make the team gel together. In every environment it will be different but as Gregg Rosenthal said at the beginning of the episode, at some point you need to call on the whole roster if you want to win the championship. Weaknesses in pockets, no matter how hard you try to hide them, will doom your team and your good people to mediocrity.

Alright. So that brings us to the end of Episode 40. Thank you so much for joining us again and remember, at Your CEO Mentor our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so if you’re enjoying this podcast, please share it with the leaders in your network who you think will benefit because this is how the world of work improves. I look forward to next week’s episode where I’m going to do a Q&A with Emma.

Until then I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.


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