by Paula on September 15, 2015

Alone in the world by Gabriel MauranoI stumbled across a short film the other night fictionally following the plight of a man appearing to be the last person on earth after the rest of the human race had been wiped out. The film showed the varying stages of fear, elation, panic, desperation, madness as this individual tried to exist with no other human to relate to. Social media sites are full of motivational quotes about how we as individuals are all powerful, unique, special and should be ourselves, but actually what are we alone, without other humans to relate to? I question whether in the end we are nothing without our relationships with others and it is in fact the relationships we encounter, those we choose and those that are forced upon us, that make us the individuals we are?

This prompted some thoughts and some examples I’d like to share…


Through my work I have been involved in many situations where a person recruited based on the personality they displayed at interview has disappeared and been replaced by an altogether different individual. Managers are frustrated by this person’s inability to fit into the role they thought they were ideal for and the individual themselves is struggling in a role they felt perfect for. This is not to do with the wrong person having been recruited or any dishonesty at interview but rather a series of relationship dynamics working against them. This person is not a 100% fully made person, they are a product of all they have been up until that moment at interview, plus a dose of reaction to the environment and the interviewers. Their inner self will react to the people in front of them – whether they feel comfortable, whether questions were asked that ignited their warmth and interest or ignited fear. The person you see is also seen through your eyes, your experiences and your hopes. Together this dynamic can be positive and make you both feel this person is right for the job.

Then they start. They will be set alongside others to work in a team. This team includes a variety of individuals who also add to the complex relationship dynamic. There will be a period of testing each other, finding common ground or finding issues. A couple of months in and the person you recruited is now the person they will be in that team. They might have been a loud dynamic person in their last place as they were the most confident and this carried through to interview. Then they might have found themselves in a team of louder people and their quieter side took over. Or they may find they are with someone who reminds them of someone they had difficulties working with previously. All of this has an effect. This doesn’t make the person wrong for you, it means you have to look at the bigger picture. Really see and understand the individuals and the relationships – sometimes a switch of role or team can make all the difference.

Poorly Performing Team

Local Radio

I listen to a local radio show in the morning on the way to work and this involves a team of 3. All of them spark off each other so positively that the radio is alive with humour and banter. It is fun to listen to. If I had recruited these 3 for the roles I would be pleased at having made excellent choices as they all appear to be very good at, and suited to, what they do. However recently one of them was off for a short period and was replaced by another perfectly competent DJ who shines on his own program. The show became flat, stilted and difficult to listen to. There was no chemistry between the individuals and as such everything sounded scripted and awkward. It was no fault of any individuals who all had the talent and personality to be there, but the team dynamics were strained and as such it appeared that the 3 individuals were really not up to the job. Had this combination of people been in their first roles you would probably not see them past probation. As individuals they had something to offer, in the wrong team they offer very little, but in the right team they come alive.

Team Issues

I was recently working with a manager who had a very divisive team. A fundamental issue of differing beliefs and standards causing the team to split into two warring camps. Meetings descended into bickering, the managers time was taken up constantly with requests to meet from individuals who wanted him to take a stand on one side or the other. A lot of work was put into trying to calm each side and workshops were run to help individuals see things from each other’s side and be more understanding of each other. Minor improvements were made but tensions still remained.

Then one individual left and relative calm reigned. It is not always easy to spot this individual. They have their issues, they have willing ears to share them with and suddenly it appears to you that you have a group of people with the same problem ignited against others who take a stand against the strong behaviour. Take that individual away though and the ones who had been riled to their side realise that actually they don’t really have a problem at all when not having things pointed out to them every day, and those who felt attacked are able to retreat from their soap box and return to a calmer environment. On one occasion  there was a pair in a team that were causing a rift and yet it was solved by the departure of the one who didn’t instigate it. In this incident the person previously aggrieved found themselves with no-one to share these thoughts with and therefore no back up that they were in the right and so by  not having their fears validated by another they realised that they didn’t actually have that big a problem after all and were able to slot back into the team more harmoniously.


The important point here is that where there are issues we can, as managers, often look for the individual causing the problem when actually as individuals we have a great set of people. Look further than the individuals, take time to put people together in different working partnerships and evaluate the effect, notice the changes when holidays or sickness mean team structure changes. You will often find that your issues cannot be solved by dealing with an individual in isolation but rather a more difficult analysis of the team dynamics and the healthy or not so healthy relationships among them. Your problems may be found not in the people themselves but in the interactions between them. Get it wrong and it can affect everyone, get it right and your team will shine.

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