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Guardians of the Galaxy – Some Unlikely Team Building Success Stories

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend.  Not being a Guardians comic book reader growing up, the characters were all new to me.  I enjoyed the the movie for it's mix of sci-fi, comedy and some well done special effects.

As an online marketing / Infusionsoft entrepreneur, what caught my attention was how this tribe of misfits pulled together.  They meet as they're being arrested and thrown in this intergalactic prison.  The Guardians are made up of an:

  • Earthling abducted by aliens,
  • a talking racoon,
  • a walking tree,
  • a very attractive green skinned assassin, and
  • this really big dude who really hates the bad guy.

No spoilers here, but this unlikely team makes use of their combined strengths to "save the galaxy" and live to tell about it.

I've worked on teams that were extremely well planned, reviewed, recruited, trained and developed.  The budgets, the timing and the projects were in place to all but guarantee success.

I've also been on teams that were more "roughly" assembled.  You kind of got assigned the folks that were available or the team you could affordable and you had to make due.

There's something to this Guardians of the Galaxy approach where you bring together you apparent misfits and you make it work.  It's requires some savvy leadership, creativity and out of the box thinking.  I will tell you that results can be impressive.  It's an opportunity to experience the thrill of pulling it together and succeeding despite the odds.

Let me share with you two Guardian team example of this in my career to show you what I mean.

Team #1 - Yay!  I Got All the Newbies

In the early nineties (Ooops! I'm showing my age), I started in a lead software development role.  I was returning from one year assignment in an IBM Faculty on Loan position.  I had been teaching Computer Science full-time at a Hispanic college and was returning to a lead software development role back at the IBM Boca Raton labs.

Because of the timing, I was assigned the of last seven tech lead roles on the project.  My team had been hired for me.  I was taking on four newbie college grads.  These "right out of schoolers" were mine to train, teach, and grow into the team that would build the test tools we needed for our part of the project.  Having come off a teaching assignment working with students, I was a optimistic. At the same time I was thinking, "Can I really do this?"

What I learned right away was that lots had happened since I had left college.  One of our guys was an object-oriented design and programming expert.  He knew object oriented programming that didn't event exist when I was in school.  All the team members were brewing with ideas.  I was expected to be leading the way, but I very quickly learned I'd be doing a lot of  "getting out of their way."  With the right guidance from me (not that much really) and with me working to clear away obstacles that stood in our way, we gel together into a team.  We had Guardians like synergy using our diverse skills to take on the challenge.

Our biggest achievement was filing  U.S. Patent 5701408 - Method for testing computer operating or application programming interfaces.   Take a look and you'll see our five names listed as the inventors.

I would never have expected that when we started that project.

Team #2 - Know Your Strengths.  Know Your Weaknesses.

I led a team at Compaq headquartered in Houston.  We had a star developer.  I'll call him Fred.  This guy  was classic.  He came with the expected poor social skills, inadequate hygiene and interesting wardrobe.

He was also brilliant.  I'm pretty sharp, but this guy made me feel grossly incompetent.   His ability to come up with creative approaches to solving problems were over the top.  Having managed folks like him before, I knew what else this meant.  Fred was a guy that could solve as many problems as he could create. (That's material for another entire article.)

I had another team member (I'll call her Binh) who was this quiet and rarely got noticed.  She was sharp coder too that needed zero oversight.  She interfaced with other teams, learned the work that needed to get done and NEVER needed me to get involved.

We typically walked in Fred's shadow.  He got noticed and received plenty of recognition.  He was that valuable.  What I noticed was he was really good at getting things started, but not at getting them done completely.  He output tended to lack "polish."   What would happen is that he would get bored and started working on the nest exciting new thing.

I got an idea.  I asked Fred and Binh to partner up .  Binh was surprised when I suggested it.  She didn't think she could add much to the very cool things Fred would invent.   What I though was that she could work on the polishing part that Fred hated.

Fred was a little frazzled by the idea at first.  Then again, his facial expressions were always entertaining. He wasn't quite sure what it would accomplish.  He ended up reluctantly loving the idea.  Binh enjoyed learning from the very cool inventions he would come up with.  Fred liked it because it freed him up to start new projects which is what he did best.

These two Guardian-like examples happened for different reasons.  The first was circumstances and timing.  The second was from through experimenting and pairing unlikely partners.  The point is team building can be challenging, but with the right creativity it can lead to unexpected positive results and a growing experience for everyone involved..

Hope this helps!

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