Sondra burst out laughing.
“You mean in a business sense?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No, just in general. How would you collectively describe your circle of friends?”
After pondering the question for a minute, she answered. “I guess I’d say they are all success, highly educated, and pretty outgoing. Most are fairly liberal, socially and politically. And nearly all of us are married with kids.”
“Sounds like a pretty good group!” I replied.
Again, she laughed. “It is!”
Turning the tables, I then asked about her professional circle and her work team. The response was a bit less…well, inspiring.
Six months earlier, Sondra had accepted the role of Training Director at a mid-sized non-profit organization. It was not her first leadership role, but it was proving to be her most challenging, by far. She’d built a team of four trainers and an instructional designer from the ground up. But the results of the group were falling short of her expectations. The training sessions fell flat. The other company leaders were resistant to allowing their employees to attend courses. And her trainers were constantly at each others’ throats, it seemed.
Over the course of the next five months, Sondra and I met biweekly as she struggled to better align her team and to manage the expectations of each constituent group. We talked about group dynamics in general, as well as the specifics of the skillsets of trainers. But our sessions went well beyond that to an exploration of the personalities involved. As it turned out, Sondra had selected individuals for her team who were just like her…their personalities, their backgrounds, and even most of their interests (personally, as well as professionally).
When faced with the exciting possibility of creating your own team, it’s often tempting to fill it with people just like you. After all, identifying qualities and strengths similar to our own is easier by far than understanding our own (or others’) weaknesses. But when a leader fills out a team with individual who bring unique perspectives, skillsets, and, yes, personalities, the results are far superior in most cases.
So, over the course of the next year, Sondra set out to re-vision her “ideal team.” She helped two of her original trainers transition into other roles in the organization, replacing them with two new trainers with new temperaments and somewhat different expertise. And we worked with the whole team to better understand the personalities and group dynamics, enhancing the areas of innate strength and compensating for areas of possible disharmony and conflict.
As we neared the end of the coaching engagement, Sondra revealed that she had, in fact, begun leveraging a similar approach in her personal life. No, she wasn’t replacing friend within her social circle, but she was attempting to broaden the circle to include others of differing personalities and interests. And, she was discovering, the richness of her personal interactions was deepening in many of the same ways as the work team’s.
Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be??