Your competitive advantage | Just Reflections - Issue #2
I've been reading a lot of fiction books, fantasy in particular. I love it! This interesting idea that I read from "The Blinding Knife" by Brent Weeks a few weeks ago came back to my mind this week and set me off on this week's rabbit hole. In this scene, a new inductee to the Blackguard — an elite royal guard in this world, — is reflecting on what she had just learnt when they visited the Archers of the squad. Describing these archers, he writes:
"I am the best ... at what I do and I cannot do everything. Those two statements held together gave them the security to face any challenge. If her own strengths couldn't surmount an obstacle, her team's strengths could. And she was unembarrassed to ask for help where she needed it because she knew that what she brought to the team would be equally valuable in some other situation." - Brent Weeks, The Blinding Knife.
Two questions came to my mind after reflecting on this. The first is, what does it take to build a team that inspires as much confidence as the Blackguard Archers? The second is, what is my individual valuable contribution to the team that can ensure that I'm unembarrassed to ask for help when I need it? Let's explore each of these.
Building elite teams
Brent Weeks of course gives his explanation of why the Archers had this strong team dynamic.
"The Archers were uncompromising and unapologetic and yet in total balance. They respected each other and they respected themselves. ... They were different from each other—but the Blackguards looked at those differences and asked where they were useful, not who they made better than whom. Being a Blackguard was the central fact of their identity. All else came behind that." - Brent Weeks, The Blinding Knife.
If you want to stop here, take with you these values for forming the foundation for a solid team.
Be uncompromising and unapologetic but balanced.
Foster respect for each other and for self.
Appreciate people's differences, use them to empower the team, not divide it.
Set up a team identity that will be central to who you are as a team and that team members can wear with pride.
Google the word "teaming" and one name you will meet is Amy C. Edmondson, the author of "Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy." I read her Harvard Business Review article titled, "The Three Pillars of a Teaming Culture" and listened to her Ted Talk, "How to turn a group of strangers into a team". This statement stood out the most for me about her ideas on teaming.
"... humility combined with curiosity creates a sense of psychological safety that allows you take risks with strangers, ... It's hard to ask for help. It's hard to offer an idea that might be a stupid idea if you don't know people very well. You need psychological safety to do that. They overcame what I like to call the basic human challenge: it's hard to learn if you already know. And unfortunately, we're hard-wired to think we know. And so we've got to remind ourselves — and we can do it — to be curious; to be curious about what others bring." - Amy C. Edmondson
The King's Fund sums Edmondson’s work into these three things that everyone can do to "team on the fly" more effectively.
Let go of the need to have all the answers–freeing yourself from feeling you should know everything may free others to pitch in to collective problem-solving; this may help you all feel more in control.
Make some time to connect, even if it’s brief, and get to know your new teammates, what they bring and how they can contribute–they may surprise you.
Be curious and welcome curiosity to make it easier for people to share their ideas and concerns, and worry less about hierarchy or what people will think of each other.
The Archers were a great team because the Blackguard had built an environment especially suited for teams to succeed. Being a member of the Blackguard was a part of your identity and held in high honour by those who had it.
Patty McCord is one of the big voices for creating teams. She’s the former chief talent officer at Netflix and is famous for creating the company’s unique and high-performing culture. In her Ted Talk titled "8 lessons on building a company people enjoy working for" she gives what I believe to be really valuable advice about building an enabling environment for talent to thrive. Here are a few quotes from the talk:
“People want to do work that means something. After they do it, they should be free to move on. Careers are journeys. ... So the idea of keeping people for the sake of keeping them really hurts both of us. Instead, what if we created companies that were great places to be from? And everyone who leaves you becomes an ambassador for not only your product, but who you are and how you operate.” - Patty McCord.
“Your employees are adults. ... we've created so many layers and so many processes and so many guidelines to keep those employees in place that we've ended up with systems that treat people like they're children. And they're not. Fully formed adults walk in the door every single day. ... So if we start with the assumption that everybody comes to work to do an amazing job, you'd be surprised what you get.” - Patty McCord
If you don't have enough time to go through the Ted Talk, she expressed her ideas in a more condensed way in this quick interview on CNBC.
A piece of advice I like to give people who are joining a new company is to find a way to "distinguish yourself". If team members think of your name first when they encounter a specific type of problem, then it doesn't matter than there's another specific type of challenge that you're not great at. You have your unique contribution to the team, your competitive advantage.
Angela Duckworth in her book, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance" says contrary to popular belief, most of what you need to have a competitive advantage doesn't need talent. It needs passionate persistence. If you put in the work, consistently and persistently, it will show.
What can you do to build your competitive advantage? Here's a fantastic summary by Sahil Bloom on "The 10 competitive advantages you can start developing today". Here are my favourite three:
Comfort with discomfort
It's comforting to know that I don't need innate talent to have a competitive advantage.
What do you think? Have you been part of a solid team? Do you know some unique ways of developing a competitive advantage? Do you think all this is nonsense? Hit reply, let's chat.
I hope I've given you something to think about this week and I wish you ever-increasing curiosity.
Until next week.