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The Fab 4... When Wires Get Crossed

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

Enter the Fab 4. And while I love a good Beatle’s reference, I’m not talking about them or the tribute band. I’m harkening back to a week ago when we introduced the four fabulous (and essential) contributors of high performing teams: creators, builders, sustainers and disruptors. Highly effective teams have a natural blend of all four role players, so this week I want to dig into the problems can arise when they don’t understand themselves or their teammates.

WHY SOMETIMES, OUR FAB FOUR DON’T ALWAYS GET ALONG

These nuanced roles have predilections, to put it simply. They see the world a certain way, and enjoy making contributions in some ways more than others.

Take creators, for example. Creators, the most innovative of the team, often have love-hate relationships with the builders, sustainers and disruptors. Afterall, they’re onto the next bright idea before the builders have finished crafting the last idea, and the sustainers keep putting on the brakes in order to keep the “ecosystem” in balance. Balance-schmalance, creators say! These ideas need to come to life today before they get stale.

And of course, your creator probably adores your disruptor one day (while out for drinks after work, coming up with new ways to transform the business) and can’t stand them the next (when the disruptor is telling them to burn it all down).

Likewise, your creator realizes she can’t live without the builder when a product seemingly magically appears on the shelf, and deeply values the sustainer after a tedious day spent in the trenches trudging through the tedious tasks the sustainer merrily handles with ease. “You *like* doing inventory?” the creator marvels! “Have at it… and please never make me do it again!”

So let’s explore who each of these four contributors are… and what happens when wires get crossed.

CREATORS: THE ARCHITECTS AND DREAMERS

  • Common descriptors: Big idea people, innovators, bright-eyed dreamers
  • When they’re happiest: Coming up with a new idea
  • When they’re most miserable: Performing repetitive, mundane tasks
  • Their favorite team member: Builders or disruptors. Builders bring their ideas to life, which brings them satisfaction. Disruptors help them feel grounded and in check, and often the disruptor’s ideas will spark even newer, more out-of-the-box ideas, which they find invigorating.
  • Their least favorite: Those sustainers crush dreams with boring details and practical obstacles. Bah Humbug!

BUILDERS: THE PEOPLE LAYING BRICK AND MORTAR

  • Common descriptors: Craftsmen, builders, executors
  • When they’re happiest: Building a product or service and testing its efficacy.
  • When they’re most miserable: When they’re asked to perform at an unreasonable pace.
  • Their favorite team member: Creators or Sustainers. Creators provide exciting new projects to execute on. Sustainers give them the supplies and support they need to succeed.
  • Their least favorite: Disruptors. Stop blowing up my hard work! Don’t you see how much I put into building this?

SUSTAINERS: THE PEOPLE ORDERING THE BRICK AND MORTAR

  • Common descriptors: Diligent. Hard-working.
  • When they’re happiest: When all their ducks are in a row and production is steady.
  • When they’re most miserable: When things change and they can’t see how it’s going to come together.
  • Their favorite team member: Builders. Builders understand why it’s important to pay attention to details and get all the pieces in place.
  • Their least favorite: Disruptors and creators. They have no idea how many things will need to change on the ground level…

DISRUPTORS: THE PERSON WITH A FINGER ON THE DETONATOR

  • Common descriptors: Obstinate. Negative.
  • When they’re happiest: Blowing something up so they can pursue something new.
  • When they’re most miserable: When they have to stay the course to finish a project they think is no longer relevant or optimal.
  • Their favorite team member: Creators. Sometimes those creators love my radical ideas!
  • Their least favorite: Sustainers. Stop complaining about the expense of starting over! Sheesh… If I hear them talk about sunk costs one more time…

COMPATIBILITY

Now that you know a little more about the Fab 4, it’s time to apply it to your work situation. Here are some thought exercises to help you move forward:

  • Who are you? A creator, builder, sustainer or a disruptor?
  • Who is the easiest person for you to work with? What makes your relationship sing?
  • Who on your team is most challenging for you to work with? Can you identify which contributor they are? What do you think they need to be their best?

Remember, while it might be more comfortable to go it alone, it’s more rewarding to appreciate the other contributors at the table and link arms. And, it’s my hope that you’ll have a little more empathy and compassion for one another going forward. In any case, I hope this gave you new language to use as you figure out the best ways to improve your team’s dynamic.

And who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself humming, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

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