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Are your superheros killing agility?

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Your firm is on its agile journey and you are leading a team which includes a superhero. This superhero is needed by most teams, is seen as a “key” person. Our superhero works on their own, not always aligned to teams goals, doesn’t attend all meetings (as they are busy), they bend the rules and still you find yourself not being able to address this as they are “critical”. This person would usually be a quick learner who over commits, over works, is intrinsically motivated and yet their peers and managers find themselves walking on eggshells around them as they don’t want to upset him. Of course, you might just need him to do you a favor and complete an important piece of work.

When the time comes to reward and recognize, he is on top of the list and rewarding him is a no-brainer, which further puffs up his God syndrome. These superheroes are often frustrated with sub-performance of other team members, and push you to do something about it as they are tired doing most of the work. One day the recruiter calls your top talent and woos your superhero away. Now you are left with a huge gap which takes some painful time to fill. Does that sound familiar, read on…

Observing these situations unfold in similar way made me think, is it impractical to have a superhero on a team. Isn’t this a contradictory situation?

  • Aren’t these the people who work late nights to complete a critical job?

  • Aren’t these the people who are subject matter experts or willing to learn the hard way?

  • Aren’t these the people who you can rely on to get an important piece of work done?

So why should they not be treated, promoted, rewarded as a superhero?

On the flip side, what these superheroes often also are:

  • Poor managers/ leaders – as they often get easily frustrated by the low quality work in the team, by people not wanting to go the extra mile like them, by people needing motivation from them, by people making mistakes and so on.

  • Lone wolves which makes peers envy them. The peers often feel like they have been shadowed.

  • Craving attention and reward – even though their teams are not doing well. They feel like their team is pulling them down. Sometimes they get rid of this frustration by quitting the organization and moving to next big opportunity.

Rewarding these superheroes sometimes can have unintended effect such as:

  • Other team members do not often get chance/ opportunity to work on something challenging which leads them not to get promotions or rewards.

  • Other team members do not care about work anymore because they would be overshadowed by the superhero. This leads to those team members not being future fit.

  • The superhero often is frustrated and stressed with little or no friends, which often pushes them to be resentful and unhappy adults.

May be a little exaggerated but we know the results are not great in the long run. If having a superhero on team so damaging than why do hiring managers look for recruits whose resumes are full of individual accomplishments? I guess the hiring managers often hope that there will be collaborative team with high performers who spread their positive influence through frequent social interaction. Unfortunately, the reality is often the opposite.

In all this chaos lies an opportunity. It starts with understanding the personality types of your team members and deeply understanding what their reason for them to come to work.

Here are the few things which the organisations should focus on:

Right Hiring

  • Hire talent based on Culture fit

  • Ensure that the personality type is understood, and fitment is evaluated based on the needs of the team. The decision should not be based purely on achievements of the individuals.

  • Share the expectations with the candidate. Everyone is not great in teaching and mentoring. Give them a fair chance to evaluate the situation before they join your team.

Goal Definition/KPIs

  • Establish shared goals and values, invest in opportunities that bring people together, and adopt inclusion.

  • People huddle together when we have a clear purpose and vision.

Rewards and Recognition

  • Celebrate teamwork and success is a team one, not an individual one.

  • Do not celebrate the work, but celebrate lives changed through teaching and mentoring. Knowledge only increases if shared, imagine the impact for both hero and other employees, their families, the company as well as the society.

Culture of team support

How can we help other people on the team? It starts with understanding what is the support they need. Once we have created a safe environment where they can ask for help you might notice some of the common themes:

  • Some of these people lack skills to carry out the job but don’t know who to ask for help

  • They are happy where they are and lack motivation, I ‘can do but won’t do’ problem

  • They don’t like their manager and don’t feel motivated to support him/ her. They are probably not fond of the job either.

Invest in creating an environment of trust in the team. Work towards engaged high performers aka superheroes and recognize the mixed signals sent when organizations hire people who stand out and then tell them to fit in. Keep a keen watch for signs of frustration and provide emotional support when necessary to this high performing individual.

Help your high performers as well as needy team members to build a cooperative environment which breeds the new age leaders who have growth mindset, are continuous learners and teachers.

That’s the spirit and essence of an agile team. Do not let your superheroes become villains by killing agility. Give them space to be who they are, everyday heroes!!

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