Have you ever noticed how sometimes in groups, one individual’s passion for a particular topic or aspect of the group’s purpose makes them a bit difficult to deal with? Haven’t you experienced teams where one individual “sticks out” for how they always gravitate back to the same subject or work? They seem to only have one card and they play it every time their turn comes up. Does that bring someone from your past (or present) to mind?
In a small church we attended, there was one member we’ll call Tom (not his real name) who was very passionate about the value of theology and expository study of scripture. Every time you got into a conversation with Tom, the conversation snaked back around to how churches were selling themselves and their members down the river of easy religion. Given the opportunity to speak, Tom hit on the same deep themes of scripture with the passion of a Hebrew linguist or a 19th century geologist. Tom’s passion eventually caused some of us to avoid theological conversation with Tom because it would always go until we gave up. Meanwhile the church leadership allowed him to have more and more responsibility because he had passion and it seemed like none of the rest of us did! Over time, people left the church and I always felt it was due to “burn out” regarding repeated emphasis on aspect of Christianity with decreasing energy spent on others such as missions, evangelism, service, helps, etc.
On any team, people with differing strengths complement one another and balance one another. A great quarterback still needs good offensive linemen, and good receivers in order to complete passes. To truly benefit from the strengths of a great quarterback, the other members of the team also need to be great at their area of strength. Think about Archie Manning with the New Orleans Saints of the 70’s. He may have been as good a quarterback as other Hall Of Fame caliber quarterbacks of his time, but his surrounding cast was never equal to that of the competition. As a result, the team never performed well. One can’t speculate about the team’s success had the quarterback been the same caliber as the rest of the team, but you can’t deny the fact that they weren’t very good with so few truly good players. Another example that comes to mind is Barry Sanders of the Detroit Tigers. Barry was a world-class 10-time all-pro running back who retired after the end of the 1998 season. In 1999, when many thought the Lions would be worthless without him, they made it to the playoffs again.
Much is written lately about focusing on your strengths. You may have been told to “exercise your strengths and manage your weaknesses.” However, this theory only applies to individuals, not to teams. Teams need to find people who are equally strong or who perform up to the level of the best performers. A balanced team often outperforms teams with better players or performers. It is true that a team is only as good as their weakest link, and what happens to one, happens to all. Therefore, the team should constantly be arranging people for their strengths, coaching and growing each individual performance to excellence. However it’s the balance of the team members that creates the greatest results. Increase the performance of the weaker members and the performance of the group will improve as well.
What is your experience? Have you been on teams where the contributions were not equal, even if the individuals might have been able to bring their performances up to the same level? How did that work out? What advice would you give others in that situation today?