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Build The Team: Alignment vs. Results

2x2 grid of results (low to high) vs alignment (low to high)

Building teams of engaged employees is an art. Do you have a prima donna or a lone-wolf on your team? Is there one team member who produces great results but comes up short on the category of “works and plays well with others?”

Teams are complicated organisms, propelled by the energy and interpersonal dynamics of the members. Healthy teams are vibrant — full of energy and enthusiasm — amplifying the energy brought fresh to the team each day by each member. Dilbertesque teams, on the other hand, dampen and stifle energy. Prima donnas and lone wolves — despite the results they produce — rob the team of the vibrancy that long-term success demands.

What to do?

Dealing with issues of cultural fit comes down to how you think about the overall concept of performance. Most of us think of performance solely in terms of results. Either you’re producing results or you’re not. But that’s one dimensional. There is a second dimension to performance that is ultimately more important: alignment or fit.

Look at the 2×2 matrix above. On the vertical axis you have the classic dimension of a person’s ability to produce results, from low to high. On the horizontal axis you have the dimensions of alignment / culture / fit.

Let’s take a look at the four resulting quadrants. What do you do with team members that fall into each area?

1: Low Results / Low Alignment

This one’s easy. If someone is not producing the required results and they are also a poor fit for the team, they need to move on. Remove them from the team gracefully. It is likely that their poor results are, in fact, a reflection of their poor alignment with the team.

2: Low Results / High Alignment

These people are a good cultural fit, they just aren’t producing the desired results. They bring good energy and that energy is amplified by the rest of the team. Train them. Coach them. Develop them. Find out what they really want to be doing and move them to a team where they can do it. If they respond, you have created a valuable employee. If they are ultimately unable to deliver on results, let them go gracefully.

3: High Results / High Alignment

These are your superstars. Respect them. Revere them. Keep them challenged with new opportunities for growth and exposure.

4: High Results / Low Alignment

This is the tough quadrant. What do you do with someone who is producing the desired results — often exceptionally so — but does not fit with the team? These are the people who want to win at all costs, the prima donnas, the bullies, the lone wolves, the know-it-alls who have low self-awareness and aren’t interested in learning.

It’s tempting to labor over this quadrant, as if it’s a dilemma. It isn’t. There’s really only one choice. If they don’t align with the values and culture of the team, they have to go. In the long run, they are toxic to the collective mind of the organization. People who do not align with the values and culture of the team sap the organization of the vital energy that it needs to thrive. Short-term results are not worth the long-term survival of the team.

One More Thing

Before you hand over that pink slip, ask yourself what role you play in your team’s ability to align into a vibrant, cohesive unit. Have you articulated the values and expectations for a cultural fit on the team? “Fit” is not a black or white characteristic. Most people can adapt and contribute enthusiastically and energetically in a variety of diverse situations — provided they understand what fit means on that team. Make your expectations clear. Let people know that you expect them to align to the values and mores of the team / organization / company. I believe that this will take care of 80% of the people originally deemed a poor fit.

For the 20% who are incapable of aligning to the culture of the team, help them find a place where they can align culturally and produce outstanding results. Short of that, move them out. People who do not fit culturally are ultimately toxic to the health of a team. Keeping them around only serves to demoralize the spirit and dampen the energy of the rest of the team.

Originally published May 05, 2012. Updated and revised July 13, 2019.

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