Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Intiators, Blockers, Supporters, and Observers

In reading Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, I found myself fascinated with the chapter on the four personality types -

Initiators, who have ideas and drive innovation, and are the general optimists.
Blockers, who are the doom-and-gloom, are you sure that's a good idea types.
Supporters, who pick the side of the initiators or blockers.
Observers, who simply provide comments.

I have done a lot of thinking about what the right balance of personalities is for a team.  In a perfect world you want a bunch of initiators, because they can just think up all kinds of good ideas and knock them out, moving the team and the organization forward.  This generally doesn't end up happening this way.  I can speak from experience when I say that having a manager who is an initiator and an employee who is an initiator is not necessarily a good mix.  This can lead to something of a whirlwind of work that might all be interesting, but isn't necessarily good for the organization.   

You also don't want a lot of blockers and nothing else, because you will sit around spending endless hours justifying why something has to get done, even when it seems relatively clear why it's a good idea.  This is the other end of the spectrum.  Instead of doing too much and having some of it not be the right stuff, you end up doing not enough of anything.  People get fired because of this.

A perfect balance in my opinion is to have a team made up of an initiator, a blocker, a supporter, and to have the manager be an observer.  The initiator gets people fired up, introduces ideas and enthusiasm, and generally dives in with gusto.  The blocker is there to make sure the initiator doesn't get carried away, questioning whether something is the right thing to do, or whether it's necessary.  The blocker makes the initiator better, because in order to do something new, the initiator knows they will have to pick their battles well, and to justify their enthusiasm with a business case that can sway the supporter and the observer.  In my opinion, a manager should be the observer, but can play a bit of a supporter role as well.  A manager who is a blocker won't get very far, and a manager who is an initiator can be seen as a little too gung-ho or overzealous by their employees.  As an observer, the manager can interject when they see fit, shaping the way that the work evolves without forcing their will on anyone.  This makes for happy employees.

It's just interesting because my office now sort of fits this dynamic, and the give and take is really great.  Coming from other places where the balance was definitely lacking, I think it's a great place to really grow.  Blockers can become more open to new ideas, and initiators can learn to harness their enthusiasm and be more thorough.
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