The Dangers of Team Imbalance

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I am turning over my blog to the Co-Founder & CEO of Cloverleaf, a startup that is shaking things up in the team building technology space. He writes about something that I have seen time and again and something many guests on my podcast have discovered over the course of time. Let me know what you think . – Todd

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By: Darrin Murriner, Co-Founder & CEO of Cloverleaf

The word “balance” is a tricky word – it implies that there are two opposing extremes. Expenses or revenue, assets or liabilities and offense or defense to name a few.

Let’s start with the sports example of offense and defense. Most recent examples of sports champions were teams that had strong offenses and defenses, not a high powered offense and a disastrous defense. Sure Tom Brady has orchestrated perhaps one of the best offenses the NFL has seen in decades, but without solid, if not top tier defenses during his five Super Bowl appearances, where would the New England Patriots be?

The same could be said for great teams in business. However, with business, balancing the team is much more complex than having both a solid defense and offense. Balancing teams in the workplace is a more elusive concept to grasp.

Sure, if you manage a team of accountants it’s easy to focus on whether the accountants  have CPA certifications or whether members of the Sales team have grown territories in previous roles and by how much. The problem with this focus though, is that it ignores many other aspects that are critical when it comes to team success. For example, what about the strengths individuals bring that lie outside the CPA certification or sales track records?

Allow me to go back to the NFL example. Each year during the NFL combine, I am amazed at how teams put top draft picks through an incredible battery of tests – many of which seem to measure things that would likely have little to do with on-field success. Even with these well documented, often bizarre assessment approaches, they often overlook some of the most critical factors when it comes to success. Team Fit.

I have seen incredible talent year after year go wasted by trying to force players into an offensive or defensive system that doesn’t fit their style as a quarterback, linebacker, etc. Don’t get me wrong, managers often talk of fit when putting a new project team together or hiring for an open position, but ask that manager how they quantify fit and it usually comes back to superficial measures that are very subjective at best.

I am the President and cofounder of Cloverleaf, a team assessment platform that has hundreds of teams profiled. I have yet to find one that strikes balance.

In Cloverleaf, one of the ways that we measure balance is by defining team roles, not functional roles. We use Meredith Belbin’s research on team dynamics that defines eight distinct roles that need to be performed on a team in order to experience success. While this is one way to think about balance on a team there are many other approaches to evaluating balance; strengths, skills, personality and experience to name a few.

So how can you tell if you lack balance on your team? Sure, you could use the Cloverleaf platform. But in the absence of a framework like Cloverleaf to think about balance, there are some clear signs of imbalance that could be a harbinger of underperformance on the teams you lead.

Clear Gaps in Performance

If you or other team members have ever said, “we are just not good at [fill in the blank]” then it is likely caused by the lack of a necessary skill. This is typical of teams that lack a skill set.

During the early days of Cloverleaf we struggled with communicating exactly what we did in the form of an elevator pitch. We were defining a new category that was partly HR technology and partly project technology so there was no clear example that people could frame our solution within. As a result, we would often find ourselves leaving a conversation saying “we have to get better at communicating what we do”. It was a clear indicator that we needed a brand strategist and we added a co-founder that could help us clarify our messaging.

Unhealthy Competition

While there are many possible causes of unhealthy competition, the most common cause is a lack of balance on the team. Whether you know it or not, there could be multiple people on the team trying to play the same role. The lack of awareness regarding this could be causing friction with others that also perceive their strengths and experiences as being best utilized in that role.

This redundancy can show up as competition. You may have just felt like you were taking the initiative by setting up that brainstorming meeting, but others that also bring ideas to the team could feel as though they are losing their place on the team. That fear could drive them to exhibit competitive responses.

Lack of Diversity

This one can be dangerous on many levels and one of the most dangerous is that it can masquerade as high performance. Because everyone acts and thinks the same, there can be a high level of team agreement and cohesion.

But looks can be deceiving and what you may not see is that because you lack different perspectives you are actually missing opportunities. You are also easily able to develop groupthink and mistake the team cohesion as high performance, when in actuality the outside perspective is quite different.

These environments can shut out others with different experiences or backgrounds. Talent could self select out or worse, there may be one isolated person that feels alone and disengaged.

The recent marketing campaign by Pepsi that was labeled “tone deaf” was the likely the result of such a team – you can read more about that ad and the team that made it here.

No Clear Signs of Growth

Possibly the most telling sign of an imbalanced team is one that lacks clear signs of long-term growth. This includes individual growth of its team members and overall lack of long-term influence to impact its mission.

Teams that are technically strong can often seem like they are performing well because they are so technically competent. However, they may lack a clear long-term vision and can become stale or lack influence organizationally. This lack of vision and influence will ultimately erode performance – often as a result of high performers moving on for other opportunities or because morale starts to sag.

If you see any of these clear signs of team imbalance it might be time to rethink the key team elements needed for success. It could be time to look beyond skill and experience and starting thinking about the team makeup in new and different ways.

Darrin Murriner is the cofounder of Cloverleaf, a team building technology platform. Darrin has over 15 years of corporate experience leading teams and growing businesses. He is also the author of Corporate Bravery, a book about building great corporate cultures. Darrin has helped create multiple successful startups in the childcare, software and media industries. A through line of these experiences is great teams and formed the basis of his current work at Cloverleaf.me.

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book-image

Want more productivity?

Try some of these 63 productivity hacks from 50 Top Founding CEOs.
Download the PDF today!

You’ll also receive our ezine full of podcast updates and tips and tricks from Todd.