Our group was “Advanced Technologies”, doing cutting edge work with the Promise of Object Technology, Artificial Intelligence, etc. And we were in the IT group responsible for systems that ran the “business”, and were barely off of Mainframes in the early 90’s. Our IT group had issues often enough that it made our external Auditor’s report as a “Risk Item” – never helpful. Being relatively new, and with my background from IBM, the CIO asked me to facilitate a half-day meeting in the “Ops” team. I gently pointed it out when we ranked all the projects, the Network team’s projects were a priority for… the Network team, Desktop – Desktop, Storage… you get the point. The team leaders all looked at me as “the new guy from outside” – as the REAL issue… which again I was used to…
The Promise of computers … and Teams are surprisingly similar. You look at them both and say “Wow, look what we can do!”… followed very closely by, “Wow…. that is all we can do?” Leadership of both requires a balance of those 2 competing challenges: Defining Reality and Providing Hope. Being raised around them, and studying technology and engineering hard through college and grad school, I remember distinctly the day I woke up and realized “Mark, you’re in IT”. It was the group in IBM that we were used to disappointing us regularly…and now I was in it. Along with a collection of people who had surprisingly little actual understanding of computers/technology – but that did not stop them from building systems that worked… occasionally.
Bands are visible Teams – you see instantly when they are together, and when they are not… and probably why I enjoy studying them. Check out this analysis from Scott Avett: “ From a very early age, we were inseparable and (my brother) sort of pressed and insisted upon that bond, whereas I was the older brother who sometimes saw Seth as someone who’d badger me and wouldn’t leave me alone when we were young...instead of letting our differences pull us apart through life, I’ve seen that anytime we’re at the forefront of a dilemma we crowd around and bring those differences together. We talk about them, spend time with them, and either accept them or leave them alone. But it’s rare. Our similarities are more prominent than our differences, but our differences are real, substantial and valid, and that’s what helps make us who we are as a unit.”
The Ops group was not a Team… it was a collection of groups that really had no idea how to pull together. In musical terms, they were in different keys, different time signatures, playing in groups that rarely harmonized. My report was as gentle as possible, but as expected, the CIO realized that this Audit item was a “real” risk, and decided to remove a number of them, and put new leaders in charge. Buried in the report was my analysis that most leaders across the WHOLE organization were not interested in using the new NeXT that he was personally championing. And without someone to help lead that team, it was likely that Ops and Development would slowly squeeze it out… You guessed it… I was the person he put in to shepherd that technology forward.
And while my technical chops were interesting, the IBM qualification I used most? How to play defense against a very large bureaucracy. The best part was I inherited a team that became outstanding in ways that I would come to use as a model for all Teams I built going forward. It is a management philosophy that I embraced: All well-formed High Performing teams have all the members of the Pooh books in them. Each of those different perspectives are needed to cover everything. And you have to bring those perspectives together – each alone is not helpful. As we met for the first time, we realized that pretty much the 8 of us were 1) hated by everyone, 2) needed to figure out how to really work well together, to 3) leverage – not compete against – each others’ unique talents and perspectives. As NeXT was not well known or liked anywhere, most of them were used to be in the “land of misfit toys”… as was I. And we very quickly started working hard on being a Team that really Promised to stand together.
So this week, I want to focus on the Promise… and differences of Teams – by laying out a few principles that were not just engaged here, but in hundreds of Teams I have worked with since. If you want to play along, think about what you have learned from teammates that brought the best … in you. Were they like you? Or different… and how did you respond to those differences? Do they all have to conform to your vision of leadership, or what did you actually learn from them? We learned together with our differences, the Promise was we could use our Team and outperform most of the organization, that… love to talk on things they don’t know about …and their Ten Thousand Words.