Sunday 8 March 2009

Finding my Voom!

There are lots of approaches to understanding how people relate to one another: there's every chance you've come across a few.

One of the most useful in practical situations is Belbin's Team Inventory, which gives insights on how people work together (or how they don't!).

In this, I turn out to have two very strong peaks: top is Shaper (also called Driver), next is Plant.

Here's a nice page giving some succinct definitions.

Shapers like to make things happen; plants generate ideas. Now you already know quite a lot about what I do best: take an opportunity or a situation and generate new creative ideas; take someone's idea and turn it into reality.

That's not a usual combination - in fact most definitions of Shaper suggest these are the last people to generate ideas. And most definitions of Plant suggest those people tend to be a bit removed from the practical 'how-to.' But I have a suspicion that 'type infinity' maths people may often show this combination: being able to do maths means plucking inspiration out of the void, then relentlessly haring down the answer.

An ideal team needs all the roles: the tool helps to build balanced teams and to understand the dynamics when people are operating out of their optimal team role. It's helped me to understand how to seek out individuals whose strengths lie in the other critical areas so that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts rather than less, which is the default for teamwork.

By a fluke for which I can claim no credit at all, I've spent my whole working life either in or connected to startup businesses or companies considering major change. You won't be too surprised if I tell you that in my experience, startups don't start up and certainly don't succeed without someone being the shaper. You might be surprised that although it's my natural lead role, I don't particularly enjoy being the overall boss: my technical skill area is marketing and I'm happiest in the Marketing Director role where on the Board I lean to my Plant side - looking for new opportunities and new ways of seeing situations - while day-to-day I love to lead marketing operations.

For similar reasons I secretly enjoy working a way down the organisation with teams that have something great but maybe not the political clout to deliver. (And in this context I take secret delight in turning finance people into effective sales pitchers: more than once that's been the secret weapon that's got projects resourced and executed.)

It also helps explain what can also seem like a contradiction: I'm a tactical strategist. The maths thing again seems to deliver without much conscious effort insight into big strategic issues; then the shaper kicks in to act.

So you can ask me what Voom! is. It is, of course, what Dr Seuss's Little Cat Z produces from under a hat to sort out the mess. And it's that bit of me that I've had to hog-tie in college, because it's always straining to make things happen, and frustrated when people set their sights too low and achieve even lower.

I'm enjoying letting my Voom! out again, if only for short bursts.