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What Spiders Can Teach Us About Building a Great Team


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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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7 Responses to What Spiders Can Teach Us About Building a Great Team

  1. Beth Waitkus June 4, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    Love the analogy and especially the advice at the end…we tend to want to work with people just like us, and that’s often NOT such a great idea. However, I do think having a similar frame for thinking is useful, just not necessarily the same skills or personality…

  2. Susan June 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    Thanks Beth! I agree with you; like in any relationship, there should be some overlap but also enough that is different to bring new thoughts to the table – and respect for those differences.

  3. Kevin Weitz March 23, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Susan, somehow I landed on your blog, and I’m glad I did – I loved not only the great personal story, but the teamwork insights were excellent. I look forward to reading future interesting business as well as personal anecdotes – they go well together.

    Best regards
    Kevin Weitz

  4. Susan March 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    Hi Kevin, and welcome! I’m glad you found me! Your site looks interesting as well, and I look forward to following your posts.

  5. Emily Rose July 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    Hey Susan!

    I just posted on my site about a spider incident!

    I’m glad that you were able to handle the situation in the cab of the truck – that would seriously creep me out having spiders flying out of the vent onto me. GAH!

    Ok, back to the point – its true that we need people who compliment us, I also think its important to find people that are different enuf but dont rub you the wrong way, you need to be able to get along even if ther person has all the right skills, they still my not be the right perso for you. All part of finding your right people – whether they are your fans, customers, or employees, co-workers.

    Thanks for this enlightening metaphorical post!

  6. Susan T. Blake July 15, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Hi Emily Rose! Loved your spider post – what an exercise in courage!

    I think you are right, balance is very important, as is awareness in finding our “right” people. It isn’t just about skills but complementary styles and personalities, and if differences seem TOO different, being willing to ask why that makes us uncomfortable.

    Thanks for the comment!

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