The ‘Curse of Brightness’.

Within the Agile communities ‘gaming’ has become fashionable, fun and some would suggest a productive way for teams to learn new skills. It certainly has gained mainstream popularity. It has certainly helped some of the teams that I have coached over the last 8-years.

Gaming reminds me of one of the seminal insights from Belbin (1980), and his work at the Henley Management College of Cambridge in what he termed ‘THE EME’ or The Executive Management Exercise. This was a week-long assessment/ development centre. In this setting, the participants created teams to compete against each other. good fun huh!

The outcome was simple: to finish with the largest proportion of scarce resources. This was how success was framed. What Belbin was able to neatly demonstrate was the affects of a range of important psychological variables. These factors included: IQ, personality measures (the Big 5), as well as creativity.

After some nine or ten years, Belbin and his team were able to claim the proverbial ‘Golden Calf’ of Work Psychology: predictive power! They must have been delighted as we Work Psychologists delight with good data. In other words, they could predict given their assessments which teams would win even before the games commenced. Yes imagine that! Holy smoke! This, by the way, became a successful business model and for sound reasons as you can see.

What can we learn?

There are a number of key insights and these seem to me to be quite relevant for 21st Century Leadership (and Organisational) Development and Coaching:

  • Their initial hypothesis that the brightest individuals brought together as a team would win proved to be faulty/false. What they discovered to their surprise was that a team full of bright (high IQ) people brought “an astonishing disappointment”. To ensure that this insight held-up to empirical scrutiny they repeated their hypothesis around 25 times. And each and every time it highlighted just how flawed it was.

It seems to me that this is worth exploring more fully, and we ought to be curious as to why this was the case. There are for me four key insights:

  1. Bright people spent an inordinate amount of time arguing. I call this the ‘curse of brightness’ in that over time bright people rely more on this strength as their singular or core strength. This creates a number of emotional, psychological and relational ‘blind spots’. The “Apollo team” as they were named by Belbin spent much more time on defending, arguing their own point of view as the ‘right view’ that this meant that other less bright but more collaborative teams made progress on the implementation of the project rather than being ‘fixated’ on generating the right ideas per se.
  2. This meant that decision-making speed was significantly slowed down. Any decision tended to go ‘around and around’ the team. They could not move to any sense of resolution or negotiation that satisfied them.
  3. The most intelligent people resented any sense of imposed organisation. This smacks to me of arrogance; or hubris. They resented leadership in any shape or form. The very notion of ‘followership’ was a ‘dirty word’ and therefore they disrupted any sense of team leader. ‘Herding cats’ of course is the colloquial term for this team dynamic and collective behaviours.
  4. They lacked creativity more than other groups with a lower IQ. Thus, a person with a high degree of creativity will genuinely suffer if placed within an Apollo group.

Solutions for Apollo Teams

So what are some solutions to these problems when faced with an Apollo group or team?

  • Get a trained Leadership Coach in for dialogue training. This will bring the competences, skills and awareness of what genuine dialogue looks and feels like. It will help the team to see the ways in which their dynamics are less productive. I have found that with Coaching Apollo teams do indeed develop dialogue skills, and over time, there will be added value demonstrable improvements.
  • Bright teams require a tough but not dominant leader. This will help the team to ‘settle’ into their roles and align their sense of team purpose. A conceptual constellation exploring their purpose can add value to these ends.
  • Some teams benefit from a rotated Chair. This helps the sense of a participative leadership style. It underscores the temporary ‘servant leadership’ model which in some cases is helpful as each member gets a turn.
  • When the team has an essential need to be more creative (e.g. in the innovation space) then bringing in external Consultancy for this purpose can help. However, Apollo teams might well need to recognise that creativity is not one of their strengths. (I have found that Apollo teams moving to a place where they can even acknowledge this can also aid their collective humility).


Key Reference:

Belbin, R. Meredith, 2010. ‘Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail’. Third Edition, Elsevier Ltd.

Take care, Jason

Insights from working alongside a high performance team: Using strengths

This last week I have being working alongside an IT team helping them to improve their team performance. A key weakness for frameworks like Scrum and Kanban is that they have little to offer in terms of actual team development. Thankfully, being a Business Psychologist one of my own professional areas of interest is team development. I am driven to help individuals and teams to find their ‘optimal performance zone’ to improve the ways by which they collaborate, problem-solve, resolve conflicts, communicate and so-on. Moving them from ‘good to great’ as they say.

I’ve found that taking a team through the Clifton Strengths Finder really helpful. Gallup research has found again (and again) that when people within teams focus on what they do best (i.e. their strengths) then they tend to succeed; perform better and are more engaged.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people to excel for over 22-years. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, millions of people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

In 2001, Gallup introduced the world to the original Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment in Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book became a New York Times bestseller and sold nearly 2 million copies. Its author and creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder, former Gallup chairman Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003), was named the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association


Gallup have found that individuals that use their strengths regularly are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 6x as likely to do what they do best every day
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life

This is an impressive set of results and resonates with my own experiences over the last 16-years.

“So what are my strengths and how do they complement my team?” asked one .net developer a few weeks ago. This is a really good question. It is good because it is framed by curiosity and it also underlies a desire to learn and grow; as well as taking personal responsibility.

The product that I have used the most is the Clifton Strengths Finder (Top 5 strengths).

Gallup Strengths Center Store

I have found that the top 5 is a very accessible introduction. It provides enough data for the individual to make sense of. And then you can easily map each of the 5 strengths for each team member across the total 34 strengths. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet for this purpose.

To give you a flavor of these I’ll include my own Top 5:

  1. Relator: People especially strong in Relator talents forms solid, genuine, and mutually rewarding relationships. Their relationships are close, caring, and trusting.
  2. Input: People with strong Input talents bring tools that can facilitate growth and performance. They love to provide relevant and tangible help to others. Their resourcefulness and curiosity lead them to store knowledge that can be culled and shared.
  3. Intellection: The particular genius of people with especially strong Intellection talents stems from the processing that occurs when they think.When they have time to ponder and process, wisdom and clarity result. They can serve as a sounding board that helps others “stretch” to discover new ways to solve problems or enhance the quality of their work.
  4. Learner: People with strong Learner talents not only love to learn, but they also intuitively know how they learn best. They can learn quickly, and when focused, they can keep a group, team, and organization on the cutting edge.
  5. Connectedness: People strong in the Connectedness theme build bridges between people and groups, showing them how to relate to and rely on each other. They help others find meaning in the unpredictability of the world around them, providing a sense of comfort and stability in the face of uncertainty. Putting it simply, their ability to “connect the dots” from the past, present, and future can give others perspective, guidance, and hope.

As you can see this reveals great insight for each team member and then the total team too. I’ve also noticed that something quite important happens in a team meeting when each member is appreciated for what it is that they bring to the team. It lends itself to what we call an appreciative stance to the work.

It also helps the team make sense of one another in new, novel and fresh ways. In the past it has also ‘released’ key energy and movement for the team too. Next, the team can reflect on any immediate ‘gaps’ across the total 34 strengths. They can question if this strength is needed or important for them? Or, can this contribution/ strength be made by someone else outside of the immediate team? Someone like a Senior Responsible Officer, or a Project Manager etc?

Simply seeing or just acknowledging this point can be quite liberating too! I’ve found in a number of contexts (more especially where there is pressure to deliver) that this ‘reframing’ of the positive contributions of those outside the direct team is very powerful too.

It is fair to say that over the last 16-years of using this strengths-based approach with various teams- across a range of professions- I have been genuinely struck by the practical ways by which it has helped moved teams along in their own unique journey from ‘good to great’. I hope it can help you too?

Take care, Jason





Radical Uncertainty: A Time to Let Go?

Happy New Year! In a genuine way I do hope that this year brings a fair measure of joy, pleasure and happiness.

Whilst I do not personally create a list of commitments or goals; I do take time for some quiet reflection by way of ‘taking stock’ of the key events of the previous 12-months. I recall both from memory and my learning journal, what I enjoyed; what surprised me and indeed where my ‘learning edge’ is for the next year.

One thing that has struck me from Theory U has been this subtle idea of ‘letting go’ so that we can be fully ‘open’ or aware to the future that is emerging. This speaks to me of more than self-awareness or what we call emotional intelligence. Whilst the latter seems to be a prerequisite there is also something more?

But what (exactly) do we need to let go off?

What are you holding on to that is distracting you from being more fully aware of what is emerging as a fresh unknown future?

These are worthwhile questions.

Over the last year I’ve been involved in a number of coaching sessions and I’ve been involved in some peer-coaching too. These are some of the themes that clients have shared by way of letting go. I wonder if you can see any that resonate with you?

  • Old beliefs or ideas that no longer work for you
  • Saying ‘goodbye’ as you work through the careful process of grieving and loss
  • Professional disappointments (e.g. not getting the promotion you hoped for)
  • Hurts when people have let you down
  • Friends gossiping behind your back- that came to light
  • An injustice
  • Betrayal
  • Significant sickness or illness
  • Feeling ‘uprooted’ by an organisational restructure
  • Losing your confidence for a season
  • Watching those that you care about experiencing any of the above

I hope that you can find the time to ‘let go’ so that for you 2017 holds the radical possibility of being fully open what is emerging and by so doing you can be fully available to play your part in that exciting prospect.

Take care, Jason




Working Authentically: How Conceptual Constellations Are Helping ‘Team IT’

A few months ago I attended a first-class training course with Ed Rowland and Sarah Rozenthuler on ‘Conceptual Constellations’. You can check it out for yourself on their website here: The Whole Partnership

Fast forward to this week.. as we tested the methodology with a specific team within an IT Directorate with over 130 staff. With this team we prototyped the viability of the methodology, as we explored two important and powerful questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this team within the IT directorate?
  2. What is the purpose of Team IT within the wider organisation?

To these ends, we used a combination of techniques and approaches that I had learnt from the training including: floor mapping; dialogical techniques; team constellations; as well as team self-organising so as to capture their sense of desired direction/ movement for their desried future.

We also mapped potential blockers or impediments to the desired movements. Next we then identified the team resources that they could call-on to help them to ‘unblock’ thes blockers.

This is a (simplified) example of what I am attempting to describe as a conceptual constellation.


Whilst the exact outcomes are confidential to the team, there were three insights that resonated with the team members that lend themselves to sharing by way of dissemination:

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

I’ll address these three important insights in turn.

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

Authenticity is a sense of being one’s genuine self. Carl Rogers had a lovely description that I think captures it well. He talks about the human that is fully functioning. This involved movement “away from facades, from oughts, from meeting expectations, from pleasing others, and towards self-direction, openness to experience, acceptance of others and trusting oneself” (Joseph, 2016; see p. 34).

Abraham Maslow puts this sense of authenticity in a similar way and says that such people tend to be “realistic in their perceptions, accepting of themselves and other people, guided by inner goals and values, able to form deep relationships, not needing to seek other people’s approval, and well-adjusted to their culture but not immersed in it unthinkingly” (op cite).

We witnessed this within the workshop as team members shared their own sense of the purpose of their team. Next they shared their experiences/ stories that their team members could sense as authentic (in an embodied way). This early activity helped to      co-create the right team environment for the workshop session; or what in the literature is referred to as a ‘safe container’.

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

Towards the end of the workshop session the team used what they had learned and experienced as they self-organised and constellated around their desired future. They mapped where they collectively desired to move; and then identified any blockers to that movement. During a previous activity (that morning) the team had identified their resources that is to say their collective strengths, skills, competencies and experiences that they could draw or call-on.

It is fair to say that there is something powerful about conceptual constellations with these ends, or aims, in mind. There is an ‘unlocking’ of collective sense-making; energy (physical as well as within the team field too); and team collaboration that is moving in so many different senses of that word.

It is fair to say that the team have been moved. They have a sense of collective moving that was unknown before we started. We did not pre-plan or design this in a priori. In other words, this collective energy and movement emerged through the constellation. It was awesome to witness.

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

Teams do have a variety of meetings or ‘coming together’. Each meeting has a different objective and style and this is appropriate. However, what really struck this team was the powerful, engaging, collaborative, energizing and experimental power of constellations when we are exploring powerful or profound questions.

When I say powerful questions I have in mind deep, profound or difficult questions like the ‘why’ type of questions. Of course, ‘What is the purpose?’ is an excellent example of this type of question.

Such questions often mean that we have to move the unit of analysis ‘away’ from the individual or even the team. As Ed remidned me recently “It is like we need to google map or zoom out to see something bigger: the whole as well as the parts”. So powerful questions are most often ‘Big Picture’ questions or systemic in nature. This means that the answers are complex. Within this IT team it is authentic to report that they found that conceptual constellations were an excellent approach.

Have a life affirming festive period.

Take care, Jason