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Are your people in the right seats?

We will need to re-design our teams, and how we work. But how do we do this effectively?

In a post-COVID-19 world the need to get our people back into the right seats and reforming teams will be a critical. Who knows what the new “normal” will be, as we’ve adapted so quickly to new ways of working and taking on new responsibilities.

Some people are thriving, others are unable to work and many “paused” on furlough – a word that many of us didn’t know existed until recently. The “mental state” of our teams will be impacted and leaders will naturally consider this as they rebuild.

Look at the individual, before the team

When I started to study team performance, I was taught to focus on the individual first before looking at wider teams. From this study, I learnt that most of us start in our careers in a junior role that doesn’t suit our natural abilities, and only if you’re lucky you’ll end up with a job that suits your natural strengths.

Think about your career – and the various jobs you’ve had. What job did you start in, and where are you today? I am guessing that over time and various promotions you might have ended up in a role that suits you if you’re lucky enough to be exposed to that role.

So I realised that overall it’s a gamble if we end up doing work that 100% matches our natural strengths. So this factor of luck and hard work needs to be considered during coaching when assessing if an individual is in the “right” seat at work.

When it comes to teams, it’s well known when people are in the wrong seats; it’s expensive.

No doubt you would have personal experience of this when someone is in a leadership position and causing a lot of pain across their team due to a “poor fit”.  For example:

  • A UK retail bank hired a CEO that turned out have for many unsavoury personal – habits that caused immense damage to their brand and incredibly sensational newspaper headlines.
  • Whenever a major multi-million/billion Government project has failed. Especially technology projects.

We may analyse these situations and rationalise them so we can provide logical reasons for these failures, but underpinning them all, it’s about people.

We tend to compound this issue. We hire good people into a team where the current employees are not in the right seats.

Jim Collins in his classic book Good to Great, states:

First Who … Then What. We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figured out where to drive it. The old adage “People are your most important asset” turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

Before you consider a solution

  • It’s common sense to ensure people are in the correct seats for happiness, productivity and retention. But from experience not many people actively “design” their teams for optimisation and satisfaction.
  • I meet people at both ends of the spectrum – veterans in their career who didn’t need to take formal workplace/psychology assessments and life worked out very well for them, thank you. And young people who have just started their careers and have taken every psych tests they can get exposed to and can’t wait to learn from another framework. Regardless of these assessments, organic self-development, career “trial and error” and luck is essential. It makes life interesting.
  • People can become a little lazy – once they’ve learnt their personality / conative profile, they may use this as ammunition not to do certain types of work. So they can be dangerous unless marshalled and communicated correctly.

Tools to deisgn your team

Design your teams based on people’s natural strengths.  I spent decades working for firms fixing projects and felt, there must be a better way – we needed to build better teams.

In my first business I had typical “start-up issues” which I didn’t understand as I came from a corporate background. My buiness coach introduced me to the most popular personality assessments (MBTI, DISC, Strengths Finder) etc. Which are are excellent on a personal level but they don’t give me the “data” to design team. I also now realise that assessing people’s personalities, whilst very important, isn’t that effective.

Then I learnt about conative testing. The assessment of how people operate under stress or during creative endeavours. Perfect for the work environment and it provides data in a numerical format that allows people to be compared on scale, to allow modelling of the output.

For Example

A customer came to us as they were going to grow their business by over 25% due to a strong pipeline and unique technology offering in their marketing. Their COO was interested in conatively assessing her direct reports, in readiness for this growth.

The results were not unusual (to us, as assessors) – people in senior positions were working against their natural abilities, and many were not meeting their boss’s expectations of the role.

The business was growing, but the team performance suboptimal. Namely, because people were taking responsibility for areas that didn’t align with their natural strengths or undertaking tasks that put them in long term “conative stress”.

The answer was to move a couple of staff into different roles and on a more granular level take the “annoying” or “stressful” tasks and assign them to people whose natural skills were more suited.

But putting them in the “right” seats was not enough, there was some additional personal awareness work to help people communicate better.

The reality is that the company was going to grow, regardless of the work we did together, but the staff were “happier” and less stressed during this growth period as they ended up working in areas that most suits them.

That was back in 2018, and the company is still thriving and growing. Since then it’s confirmed the need to “Architect the Team®” before we embark on changes in our organisations.

People will perform even if they are in the “wrong” seat, but they will perform better if it’s the “right” one.


Picture of Hutton Henry
Hutton Henry
Hutton has worked with Private Equity Portfolio firms and Private Equity funds since 2015. Having previously worked in post-merger integration for large firms such as Ford and HP, Hutton understands the value of finding issues prior to M&A deals. He is currently the founder of Beyond M&A and provides technology due diligence for VC, PE and corporate investors, so they understand their technology risks before entering into a deal.

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