Should likeability be a factor when deciding to include someone on your team? Nowadays there is so much emphasis in targeting individuals based on talent and skill. There is no denying talent significantly influences the success of your team. Here are some examples:
- A lead programmer knows how to best architect an application or website. Doing it right the first time is so important, especially if it is the crux of your business.
- A graphic designer creates something that is stunning and leaves a lasting impression on your company brand. It is doubtful two graphic designers ever produce the same product.
- A leader juggles many responsibilities as he or she tries to synchronize the objectives of the company. Two leaders never take the same approach.
How does ‘likeability’ fit into the equation? Measuring ‘likeability’ is difficult because it is subjective and team dynamics are complex. Besides, you may work with someone you do not like but use good soft skills and learn to tolerate him or her.
One way to understand the functioning of the team is to sum the value of the product or service the team produces collectively. You can tinker with various team scenarios and compare the different outputs. As team members are added, the total value may increase or decrease; therefore, it is not solely dependent on talent. A ‘star’ has the potential to make a huge contribution. Contrarily, a ‘sapper’ can do a lot of damage. In case the ‘total value’ does not capture the wellbeing of the team, I add another ‘total happiness’ index.
There is an article in the February 2014 Wired magazine about the CEO of Zappos who moved his company to Las Vegas. What is interesting is that he built not only the infrastructure of the company, but also a whole support community. He invested in entertainment, shopping, apartments, and restaurants and ended up revitalizing a whole downtown neighborhood. His motive is to nourish relationships between workers by pushing them to spend more time together afterhours – basically getting them to like each other. (How else do you explain having a fully stocked bus and providing free transportation to events across town on any given night?)
What makes this is a complicated issue (and probably why companies are willing to invest a lot towards talent) is one talented individual can fundamentally change the whole complexion of an organization whether or not he or she is liked. Think about the situation of Steve Jobs. He had the initial vision for Apple, and was crucial in making it a pioneer of personal computers – clearly has an abundance of talent. However, later on, he was let go and worked for another company. (It is hard to say if it had to do with ‘likeability’, nevertheless, it is clear he was at odds with management and not necessarily a team player. At least this was my interpretation of the situation based on the biographical film Jobs released in 2013.) Years later, Apple brought him back as an advisor and then CEO. He then led Apple to its legendary rise to the top of the industry. Would you hire someone oozing with talent but not a team player?
- Extreme talent is probably worth the investment. Of course the caveat is talented professionals should try to be ‘likeable’ (rather than ignoring it).
- When two professionals have similar talent, it is worth considering ‘likeability’. Build a happy team.
- An individual who disrupts team dynamics can do more harm than benefit. (Think of the ‘total value’ a team produces to understand the impact of an individual.)
- Productive and happy teams have more longevity. Fulfilled team members are less likely to leave for other opportunities.
- ‘Talent’ and ‘likeability’ are not completely independent of each other.
- Invest in talent to create a thriving workplace and this might make a happy team– there is satisfaction in generating value.
- Invest in getting team members to like each other. There is a positive vibe, and random interactions may spur innovativeness (something talked about in the Wired article).
A personal note:
For a previous employer, I coached all of our sports team. There was talk around the office about resurrecting a company softball team, so I started the co-ed, all-inclusive team – everyone from entry-level to senior management played on the team. The effect was huge: active participation, camaraderie, newsletters, nicknames, jokes, coffee talk, and so on. Later I added a soccer and basketball team. I think leaders should consider introducing meaningful, out of the office team building activities, such as sports teams. It breaks the rigidity and formalness of the workplace, and lots of times helps foster lasting friendships.