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Leadership Happy Families

– By Mark Katz

Have you ever wondered why Manchester United win so often or why Google and Facebook grew to be the largest companies in the world in such a short period of time? Timing, luck and great ideas all play their part, but first and foremost, all three owe their success to their people.

In order to understand what makes a team truly effective, you first have to understand the people in it. Whilst some teams are driven by the personality of the leader or founder, most are a product of the diversity of skills, preferences, styles, beliefs and motivations of individual members.

To create empathy, interdependence, trust and balance within a team, team members must be clear about exactly who they think they are, who other people think they are and who they think other people are. Only then can individuals have meaningful and truly progressive conversations about how to work together to the best collective advantage.

There are many ways to identify the differences and similarities between team members – psychometrics, 360 feedback, reviews, staff surveys to name a few. But whichever you chose to adopt, understanding the raw material that makes up your team is the essential starting point for improving its performance.

Back in the 1850s, one of the most enduring and popular children’s games of the last 200 years was invented. Happy Families was a simple concept played with a deck of 44 cards, each one featuring the picture and name of a family member and their job: “Bun the Baker”, “Bones the Butcher, “Pot the Painters Wife”, for example.

Jump forward to today and think about the group or team in which YOU work. Recent research has shown that there are characteristics common to members of a family, team or organsiation. Do you recognise any of them?

Distracter: Does things that takes attention away from the team’s problems and finds distractions or ‘other things’ on which the team should focus

Rebel: Independent soul. Doesn’t ever quite fit in and happiest when not following rules. Makes a point of behaving differently to others but gets away with it because they are often good at what they do. Effective communicators, but can be high-maintenance and hard to manage

Mascot: Nice to have around so often viewed in a positive light. But not essential and often with a questionable contribution to team performance.

Favoured Son: Perceived to receive special treatment or extra attention but is expected to be more responsible in return. Often loyal and trusted by management.

Hero: The team member who saves the day – often repeatedly – whenever the team or organisation is in trouble. When you need a big sale, in steps the Hero to save the day.

Sceptic: The doubter, always keen to point out why things won’t work. Tries to position themselves as the voice of reason, especially when confronted by anything new, creative or different.

Judge: It’s never their fault, especially when things go wrong. Happy to point the finger at others and act as judge and jury. These undesirable attributes are sadly all too common.

Sickly: Often ill or impaired in some way or has a ‘problem’ which they always cite as a reason for under-performance or not participating in difficult tasks.

Cheerleader: Happy to shout encouragement but not so keen to stray onto the pitch and get stuck in. Risk-averse and like to keep their hands clean

Star: High performer and treated as such. Performance achievements means that mistakes and inadequacies are often ignored (sometimes to the annoyance of lesser mortals). But often inspirational and so generally good to have around.

Saint: Never seem to do anything wrong. Can be pompous and self-righteous but with a strong sense of values. Rarely challenged by others.

Scapegoat: Bears the brunt when things go wrong but accepts their position as team whipping-boy and accepts responsibility for failure, even when it is not directly their fault.

Joker: Fun in small doses, but compulsive use of humour can be inappropriate and tiring. Often have issues facing difficulties but can sometimes be a useful source of distraction.

Peacekeeper: Always there to mediate when the going gets tense. Tries to maintain harmony at any cost but never confronts issues and always backs down.

Martyr: Endures suffering on behalf of others. Takes the blame for failures. Usually works long hours and displays abnormally high loyalty to get attention and recognition. Struggles with the concept of balance.


Mark KatzMark Katz is the owner, founder and Managing Director of Poisson Rouge. For over 20 years now, Mark has specialised in the design, development and delivery of exciting and often unique, performance improvement and team building activities and events. His core values revolve around openness, honesty, challenging, having fun at work and delivering results.


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