Why High Performing Individuals Fall Apart In A Team

July 28, 2015

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

I have hired the best individual contributors anyone could find. The problem is that they aren’t very good at working as a team. For example, clients often call after a meeting with a follow-up question. I have one person who is great at responding quickly to client needs, another who wants the time to research when we have an error on a client’s account and a third who says we should have a meeting every time a client issue comes up. Individually, all three are strong performers, but they trip over one another whenever they have to agree on ways to meet client needs. I have tried different approaches to helping them work together but nothing seems to make a difference. Are there incentives or punishments I can dole out to change this dynamic?

Paul R.

Dear Paul,

While reading your inquiry I could not help but remember a great quote by Babe Ruth that I use when we do teambuilding. He said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Many people are strong in their individual contributions, even “stars” in the firm, but they may not be great when asked to collaborate, negotiate or compromise.

One of the areas I encourage you to examine is the behavioral differences and different styles of your team members. The way you describe their different approaches — one “quick”, one thoughtful and one wanting to collaborate — speaks of behavioral style to me. I write a lot about behavioral style because it is so fundamental to how well we do in a given role (how well matched we are) and how we get along (or don’t get along) with others. Behavioral style speaks to our different preferred approaches in solving problems (quick to act or more thoughtful and slower to get results), getting along with people (introvert versus extrovert), our pace of action (sharp and quick versus slow and methodical) and our approach to rules (very focused on doing it “right” or creative and out of the box). These approaches all have their strengths and weaknesses in different situations. However, when we match people with vastly different styles, that’s where the trouble can start. If I’m quick to get to results and you’d rather think about what to do for a time, we’re going to grate on each other. We don’t see the differences in style; we just see that the other person isn’t “cooperating.”

All that said, the best teams have members that actually do complement one another. Different styles by definition bring different ideas and approaches to solving a problem. “Group think” where everyone agrees and does things in lock step is often fraught with problems. So how do you reconcile your situation? I encourage you to sit down with the team and review each member’s contribution together. Identify what you see each member doing well and where the opportunities for improvement might be. Highlight the differences for them and ask the team how they could best work together and be most effective. Many times if you point this dynamic out in an objective fashion, the team will work together to figure out how best to collaborate. Good luck!

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Why High Performing Individuals Fall Apart In A Team