Visualizing The Shape Of Teams

I like to think of teams as having a “shape.” Each team has its own unique form, made up of outliers. Imagine a rubber band being stretched around a set of pegs on a pegboard.

They may not be dramatic outliers, but they contribute to the defining shape that gives a team their identity. Lots of other pegs can fit inside the shape without changing the shape of the team. These are not outliers. That’s healthy.

If a new outlier enters the scene, then the shape of the team changes. You can see how the inverse is also true.

And if a team is meant to be a circle, then a peg placed outside the bounds of that shape is not good for the team. Or, the peg. If the purpose of this team is to be a diamond, then that same peg may fit nicely and is a positive--even critical--outlier. The peg didn’t need to change at all.

But, why is that peg placed there? Because their identity demands it.

The social and professional identity of a person is made up of three specific identity drivers: Personality, proficiency, and preference.

And the measurement and comparison of these three facets of a person can help us understand why there are outliers in an organization, and if there should be.

The first identity driver is personality; the combination of qualities that make up one’s character. It affects interpersonal relationships. You can articulate your own personality by identifying how you focus on information, how you make decisions, how you get your energy, and how you relate to the outside world.

The second factor in one’s social and professional identity is proficiency. It’s what you’re good at; your strengths and your skills. You are judged in the workforce and socially by what you’re good at and best suited for.

The third and final driver that helps make up a whole identity is preference; the things you would do professionally and socially if you had your way, completely. It’s the difference between preferring an environment that is more competitive, or more collaborative. Means-oriented, or mission-oriented. It’s not a question of right or wrong, or better or lesser, it’s simply asking, “what do you prefer?” When people with the same preferences get around each other, that’s when a culture is its strongest.

The combination of these three identity drivers makes up your whole professional and social identity. It’s a powerful and dangerous cocktail of elements. It gets even trickier: those things change over time. And that's not including unconscious bias, peer influence, societal pressure, personal values, or faith structure. Humans are freaking complicated.

All those factors dictate WHERE your peg is placed.

So, what is the shape of your team? Is it the shape the team needs to be? Can you identify who the outliers are on your team--the people who defined its shape? Are you an outlier? Is that good for you?