Team Building, Part One

Currently, I am working with a client who hired me because I am successful in putting huge teams together to accomplish amazing things in a short period of time.  Seems like film producers do this all the time; yet often other businesses can’t get the knack.

This particular client is having a problem building his team because he has a tendency to “hire alike.”  This is a wrong practice, a practice that many business executives use incorrectly, but a practice that many film producers correctly apply; that is, films “hire unlike.”  If a leader makes the mistake of hiring people with whom s/he is entirely comfortable, those with whom s/he would be good buds or those with whom s/he will always agree–clones and drones–then that leader will not have a well-rounded team.  That executive will have a team with a lot of skill gaps, a team with a tendency towards group-think and a team that will not be able to break out of stuckness.  The team will develop inertia; will have a predisposition to think “the way we’ve always done this works just fine,” and thus, won’t look for innovative solutions.

This current client of mine, Nolan, a very dynamic, motivational salesperson and the CEO of a company, perceives difficulties with his CTO (chief technology officer) and his CMO (chief marketing officer or business development executive.)

The technology executive is all about requesting facts, details & clarifications; the sales-y CEO Nolan describes this as “Kieran is challenging me and being uncooperative.”  Nolan (a first-time CEO) sees Kieran’s request for operational details as disloyal, rather than seeing it as a wise input to the executive team, an input that will ensure solid systems to support the business goals.  Nolan asks Kieran for a budget; Kieran says he can’t do a budget without understanding the planned customer acquisition ramp and the customer support infrastructure required for that customer ramp.  Nolan thinks Kieran is being stubborn and “not nimble” and “not startup.”

Nolan is reluctant to commit to a customer acquisition ramp because it’s not Nolan’s strength: Nolan is a strategist, a visionary.

The business development executive, Felicia, has offered her projections of the estimated customer ramp; she has offered to share with the entire executive team these projections and her plans to accomplish them; but Nolan doesn’t want to commit to something he has not analyzed himself; and thus has asked Felicia not to publish her projections to the rest of the executive team.

Nolan is making two “hire alike” mistakes.

  • One: seeing Kieran’s way of approaching business planning as “disloyal” instead of as an incredible contribution to a robust team.  Kieran’s approach is different from Nolan’s.  It should be.  They have different roles and different skills.
  • Two: not trusting Felicia’s projections because Nolan is unable to create projections like that himself.  Nolan should not have to know how to do everything himself.  He has hired Felicia because she has experience and skills and tools that Nolan doesn’t have.

I would like to be able to encourage Nolan to embrace the unlikeness of his team members as gifts instead of seeing them as problems to be corrected.

We could never make films if we weren’t able to have visionary directors working alongside nit-picking line producers.  The DP can only execute his dreamy landscapes with the help of a very anal focus-puller.  A director who just wants to tell a story would not get very far if she didn’t understand that the lead actor needs to be a hair-trigger reactor–in the moment–and  not a planner of the entire story arc.  In film we seem to be able to embrace our unlikeness and fly with them.  Film is the most amazingly collaborative art form.  Film is the most amazingly collaborative business.

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