How do you solve a problem like Maria?

I know you’re all big Sound of Music fans. And this week Messrs Rogers and Hammerstein pose a very pertinent question for North Yorkshire business owners:

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertigibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand

In the olden days it was simple. Businesses wanted team players. And what did the schools aim to produce? Precisely. ‘Reid has no brains but is a good team player.’ And the school would consider that a job well done.

But the times they are a-changing. Businesses are finding that they’re having to recruit people who don’t fit into the traditional ‘team-player’ mould: who flourish in the freedom that hasn’t normally been afforded by a traditional office environment.

They’re needing to recruit ‘creatives’ – designers, geeks, people who do things with the web that no-one else understands. These people will not wear ties; they may not even – gulp – wear socks. They may want to work unconventional hours.

So what’s the problem? After all, this week sees the Ryder Cup – where the most individual sportsmen on the planet (golfers) come together to form a highly effective team. If they can do it, surely anyone can be integrated into a team?

But there’s a difference in business. In a small to medium sized business it’s not about a collection of individuals coming together – almost always it’s about integrating one creative individual into a group of traditional team players. And if we turn back to the world of sport, the auguries are not promising. (Glenn Hoddle will do as my example, but there are several others.)

So if you find you have to recruit a free spirit, how do you get the best out of them? How do you pin down your cloud, or keep your wave on the sand? And most importantly, how do you make sure the other – maybe more conventional – members of your team accept what you’re doing? A couple of TAB members have been down this road recently – here are the three main points that came out of our 1:1 sessions:

1. One of the keys to getting the best out of people is to make them feel loved, wanted and appreciated. So don’t spend all your time with the shiny new creative and neglect people who’ve been with you for years

2. Above all – communicate. Let people know why you’ve had to bring someone new in and make sure that existing employees understand the contribution the new person can make to the business. And make sure everyone appreciates the strengths and weaknesses of all the members of the team. As I constantly say to my two boys, ‘Your brother’s not better or worse than you. He’s different.’

3. Finally, make sure you understand what motivates people. What drives your creative person might not be what motivates your bookkeeper – but you might be pleasantly surprised as well. Both the TAB members report that bringing in one new person has generated a real ‘creative buzz’ throughout their whole company. Even from some people who wear ties…

Let me leave you with one of my favourite business stories. It’s advice from Martin, a friend of mine who describes himself as an uber-nerd. That is, he’s a nerd and employs other nerds. If you have to hire a nerd/geek/computer wizard, take Martin’s advice. “If I’m interviewing, I ask a simple question,” Martin said to me. “The answer tells me everything I need to know.”

“What is it?” I said.

“Simple. ‘How many PCs do you have?’”

“So,” I said naively, “You’re looking for an answer like three or four?”

Martin sneered at me. “Every nerd worth his salt gives you the same answer,” he said. “They look at you with amazement and say, ‘What? In my lounge?’”


One comment

  1. Michelle Mook · October 1, 2012

    Great points you make Ed and I would also agree that it is vast becoming one of the biggest challenges for business owners and leaders. Wherever there is conflict in a team, it is usually as a result of a lack of communication about people’s individual strengths and skills and then a lack of understanding and appreciation about how these contribute to the achievement of business goals.

    It’s also important to do this as it will sometimes highlight gaps – as a business, it’s always worth answering the following questions:-
    – Where do we want to be?
    – What do we need to get there and what might get in the way?
    – What strengths and skills do we have individually that will contribute to this and are we all playing to our strengths?
    – What, if anything, is missing?

    Also – great to see you at Rugby yesterday – watching our team play (quite a few of them, including my son, are new to the team) was another great example of the importance of getting to know each other and understanding each other’s individual contributions. Needless to say, they’re not there yet and we lost! However, it shows the importance of your number 1 point – despite this, the coaches do a great job of making them all feel loved, wanted and appreciated which is helping them to start to bond 🙂

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