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What Spiders Can Teach Us About Building a Great Team

I know, you’re thinking, “But spiders are solitary creatures. What can they teach us about building a great team?”

About 15 years ago I rented an 18-foot truck, my sister and I loaded it up with the contents of my storage locker, and we set out to drive it from Seattle to Minneapolis. Yep, two chicks on cross-country trip. (In a truck, no less.) Although there were no guns and no convertibles, the comparisons to Thelma and Louise were endless.

Well, we had been on the road for a short while and I was behind the wheel, happily driving along, when one of us turned on the air conditioning.

And a bunch of spiders blew out at us.

I hate spiders. They are the only thing I know of that will make me scream. So you can imagine what happened: I immediately screamed and started brushing away spiders.

While I was driving.

Luckily for me, my sister is not afraid of spiders and never has been. In fact, she was My Protector growing up, as she was the one who would capture the wolf spiders that inhabited our old house and release them outside. (Of course, I think she’s also the reason I’m afraid of spiders, since she put a daddy-long-legs on my neck when we were playing Truth or Dare or something when I was very little.)

Anyway. My sister could have grabbed the wheel, but instead she very calmly (at least in comparison) said, “You drive, I’ll take care of the spiders.” And I did. And she did. We still laugh about that sometimes (and I get the heebie-jeebies).

“But what,” you might ask, “does that have to do with building a great team?”

Well, think about it. My sister and I are a great team, and we were an especially great team at that moment, because we had different strengths. I was able to remain (relatively) calm and keep driving even with the heebie-jeebies, and she was able to restrain what would have been a natural impulse to grab the wheel and instead dealt with the spiders. Imagine the consequences if neither one of us was able to deal with the spiders, or if I was not able to maintain my composure and keep driving, or if she had tried to grab control. Great teams are composed of people with complementary skills. Even members of teams that appear to all do the same thing, say, the Rockettes, have different responsibilities. After all, someone has to be the pivot person on the end, right? (Never having been a Rockette, I’m just guessing. But you get my point.)

The great challenge in building a team with complementary skills isn’t just that, however.

The First Great Challenge of Building a Great Team: Avoid the temptation to hire people just like you.

The Second Great Challenge of Building a Great Team: Anticipate the surprise scenarios and plan for them by putting in place the people who can handle them.

My sister and I didn’t plan to have a nest of spiders come blowing out into our laps, of course. (Seriously, I would have asked for a different truck, thank you very much.) You can’t plan for everything. But knowing you have people on your team with a variety of skills and personalities that can cover a lot of possibilities not only makes your team stronger, it also makes life a lot more interesting.

Do you agree?

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