Don’t Discard Dr. Disaster—The Upside of the Downside: Top Ways To Create Unexpected Gains For Your Team

By Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

Who has not sat in a meeting that lasted too long and accomplished too little or been involved in projects that ground to a halt because the decision makers couldn’t agree on a direction? If you have been spared these all too common professional maladies, then count yourself among a fortunate few.  Many times, the root cause of these and other productivity “zappers” is a lack of cooperation and cohesiveness within the team driving the initiative.

The following are things you should consider when trying to overcome the barriers that lead to frustration, employee dissatisfaction and lower morale.

#1—Identify Your Type…Of Problem Solving Personality?
Our experience has shown that there are eight major personality types when it comes to solving problems.  Many times we take on characteristics of several of these as we approach issues in our day-to-day jobs.  However, under stress, we tend to gravitate toward one—our dominant and strongest personality.  Are you an innovator with a million ideas but no focus?  Maybe you are very intuitive and driven by emotions over facts? Knowing what “personality” your team members take on when faced with a challenge will help you to gain a greater understanding of how to interact and engage them and also, how to draw their strengths out to gain the greatest results for your initiative.

#2—Speak Their Language
You won’t get too far in a remote part of Brazil without speaking Portuguese. The key to effective communication is understanding how to communicate with your team in a way that is most meaningful to them.  This is best accomplished by understanding their problem solving personality.  For example, if they are an analytical type, they need facts to base their decision and emotion has little or no value.  If you try and speak to them in emotional terms, you will be dismissed much faster than if you speak to them in a factual context.  By “speaking the language”, your team members will feel that you can understand and relate to them and will feel more motivated to contribute to your effort.

#3—Bridge the Gap
Work with your team to create an understanding of the roles and value of each team member, even when it is less obvious how they can contribute.  For example, one team member is typically isolated in a discussion because he usually plays devil’s advocate and always wants to address the “downside” and the pitfalls of a situation.  He can be draining to others because he is seen as the “wet blanket” and the “party pooper”.  While you may counsel him to temper those strong contrarian opinions with an acknowledgement of what may be going well, it may also be wise to create an understanding within your team of the value of not disregarding “Dr. Disaster”.  In this situation, the contrarian’s opinions and views, if taken into account, can highlight potential potholes in the path to success.  There is value in seeing opportunity for disaster and being able to avoid problems because of awareness.  By including those opinions, in that context, team members can view these seemingly “wet blanket” afterthoughts as part of a complete process—the team’s process—to creating and implementing successful initiatives, where each perspective is valued in its own way.  Create an opportunity for dialogue and help to build an understanding and a value for each team member’s ability to contribute to that group’s success in their own unique fashion.  Many communication barriers are created by a simple lack of understanding.

#4— Leverage Individual Strengths
As mentioned, every person, whether they have a million ideas a minute, or they are the “glue” of the group, has a unique value proposition to the group they participate in.  You have learned about your team’s personalities, how to communicate with them and transferred that knowledge to your group. Now, it is time to take that knowledge, draw upon the individual strengths of your members and encourage your team to build upon those strengths for productivity and results.  For example, you have an innovator.  They have so many ideas, but so little focus.  They bring the imagination to the table.  An analytical type can sort through the ideas and make some determinations about probability for success, based on their factual evidence.  The intuitive type can provide input based on their instincts and opinions and the contrarian can provide a counterbalance to input offered by the positive, “glass is half full” type.  The radical personality can think of new and different ways to approach a process, while an adventurous type can fearlessly blaze the trail and get the ball rolling.  All the while, the process can be artfully facilitated by the humanitarian, “glue” type.  The project is successful and each personality provided a valuable contribution based on the strengths they offer in a group situation.  Without an understanding of themselves or each other, discussion could have become mired, instead of productive.

#5 – Optimize Team Performance—Everyone Wins
Gaining a familiarity with the strengths of your team can further assist you and your team in providing value to your organization.  As part of a company or group, you have a unique understanding of the issues your organization experiences.  Coupling that identification of issues with the problem solving capabilities of your team members can provide opportunities for your team to shine, collectively and as individuals, while helping advance your organization or overall initiative. There is certainly a value to having the insight that allows you to assign the right people to the right task.  For example, your organization needs to improve its knowledge management process. Leads and customer information is gathered by sales people, but there is no process in place to centralize this data. You probably would look to your analytical team members to evaluate the current situation and, after reviewing comparable best practices, help develop a system that works to alleviate the information logjam.  Your team members get an opportunity to step up as  leaders and your organization benefits from having a manager who can connect the dots between problem and solution by leveraging the strengths of their resources.

The most productive teams are made up of people who balance and challenge each other.  While there is no magic solution that will make everyone get along all of the time, there are ways to offset potential issues and barriers that could impact overall success.  The key is to start with understanding your team—how do they approach problems, what value can they provide the group, how do you create communication opportunities within your team to further this understanding and helping your group see the value of the integrating strengths each person brings to the table.  If properly executed, your team—and organization—will benefit from having happier, more motivated teams in place to drive the momentum behind your key initiatives.


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