The Value Of A Complementary Team

by  Paul LaRue  |  Team Dynamics
The Value Of A Complementary Team

Back in my formidable days of being a twenty-something manager, Jack, one of the senior leaders of our theme park department, would spend time throughout his days discussing various leadership and operational strategies with us. Whether you agreed with him or not, his insight was usually based on foundational truths and we had the utmost respect for him challenging our leadership mindsets.

One of the lessons I learned from Jack was how to seek team members who complemented each other. As a young manager emerging to be a more effective leader, my tendency, as was most of ours, was to hire or promote people who had a certain style, demonstrated a particular personality, or fit a specific mode. Jack worked with us to show how shortsighted that approach really was.

Building a team, he said, is like putting together an engine or a puzzle. Not every piece is cut the same, nor does every part have the same function. In applying his teaching over the years, I’ve come to learn how valuable this pearl of wisdom has become. Here are the values of why we should focus on a complementary team-building approach.

Within a team, not every role is the same.

In our food and beverage department in the theme park, we had many roles. Cooks, cashiers, stockers, supervisors, and prep cooks. Each required a different skill and a different focus. We needed to understand these roles intimately in order to realize the traits needed to perform the job properly. Just putting any person into the role could mean forcing a round peg into a square hole.

Within a role, not every person has the same talent.

I would staff 15 cashiers at one of my restaurants on a given shift. As much as I would like them all to be great at suggestive selling, some of them were more focused on the customer experience, and others on speed. One of the strategies I used in helping build their skills was to schedule a strong salesperson next to a customer focused one, in helping them learn from each other in the course of their work. Not everyone can fire on all cylinders, but if I had enough salespeople, expediters, and smile makers, I could cover all my bases of what I hoped to deliver on any given day.

Leaders need to complement their staff.

In the many years since, my focus has been on developing leadership teams that matched the needs of their people. One of my foodservice operations had a pretty well rounded team that focused on quality, efficiency, customer service, and regulatory compliance. But when the opportunity came for us to promote a supervisor, we chose a bright young woman for the position who was a stickler for rules and ethics. Many bristled at her promotion, but her growth and alignment within our team showed she could make a positive impact. At first, it was rough. But over time, the team took to her so well that they responded to her high standards and raised their game willingly. They admitted that Caroline was just what they needed to help them get to the next level of standards. Not only did the staff need her insight, the rest of the management team did as well as they stepped up their performance to stay on par with Caroline’s.

Complementary fits extend to behaviors as well.

If you have a basketball team of all great shooters, but none who want to pass to their teammates or help play defense, what percentage of games do you truly expect to win? A team of people whose behaviors fits together works more effectively than those who try to stand on their own. Finding behaviors such as teamwork, a willingness to share their skills, and abandoning the “it’s not my job” mentality will create a far better winning strategy than those who have an “eight-and-the-gate” mindset.

Don’t neglect complementary values to round out your organization.

Hiring the right people, who embody your core values, is vital to organizational development. What if your values were Respect, Customer Service, Creativity, and Serve Others but not everyone is strong on each one? If your candidates have the basics of your values in place, you might have an organization where your people who are great at Customer Service fill certain roles, and those who excel at Creativity work in a differing capacity. Or, as mentioned before, you might align complementary strengths within a team to round out the strengths of each value and ensure each team has people who champion all of your values within those spheres.

Set your organization and each team up to cover every base through complementary team-building. Fill in the holes and make the pieces come together. The best organization may not have the best people, but people in the right roles working together in a greater capacity for success.

Have you seen a team which functions efficiently due to complementary members? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Morguefile

About The Author

Articles By paul-larue
Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and author of “Leadership LIFT: Take Your Leadership to New Heights”. Paul draws off of his years in senior leadership to pursue his passion – to enable leaders to increase their positive influence in their world. http://upwardsleader.com/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John Smith  |  12 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Paul – excellent post:)

I do not remember ever seeing the word “complimentary” used in connection with team building or people fit for positions, but it makes perfect sense and is a good word to use.

When we complement each other, we are using our strengths exactly as we should … to fill in the performance gaps or needs of the larger organism.

I would add that “complimenary” does not equate to “thinks and acts just like me”, as some managers appear to believe is the ultimate fit.

In one workplace, one of the most common ways to describe the environment was to use the phrase “We’re just like a family”, which I am no fan of, since a work group or organization bears little actual resemblance to how a family operates. Actually, families are more often examples of how workplaces should not be:)

However, in this case, it worked.

When they said “family”, they were actually talking about something very similar to what you describe: A group of folks focused on a common goal, who are working together with little conflict or competition. Because of this, that workplace was like an idealized family, in that the best aspects of close connection to others in a distinct group existed.

You have nicely broken down the distinct elements which contribute to effective interaction among co-workers, and the last thing you mention is the most important: common values. When a group agrees on the values, much else becomes easier and more flowing.


John Smith  |  12 Feb 2016  |  Reply


Just realized I used the term “complimentary” instead of the word I was thinking and which you used; “complementary”.

Not the same … sorry, brain glitch at end of long and busy day.

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