How Laser Tag created a High Performing Team

 

Early in my career I was managing a global team of eight men. Each team member had the same technical skills and the same responsibilities. These men had never worked together and didn’t know one another. For months, we met virtually over conference calls. While we made progress, it never felt like we moved past “forming” and into “norming” or “storming.” I struggled to find each individual's sweet spot. 

 A few months in, we had an in-person meeting. One evening, I suggested we take a break and go play laser tag for team bonding. When the game began, I noticed the team split up. One had stationed himself in a corner and was strategically targeting people. Another one was randomly charging people to catch them by surprise. Two had teamed up to form an alliance. Another had found a creative way to keep his vest covered so he couldn’t be tagged. Another alternated from moving up high to see where people were and then would get down and tag them. In a 15-minute game, I learned more about my team than I had in the months prior. I realized I had a strategy person, someone interested in testing new ideas quickly, someone who would execute, and another who liked alternating between the big picture and the details. By putting them in a different context, their natural default behaviors and strengths immediately displayed. The team members likely weren’t even aware these were their natural behaviors or strengths and certainly wouldn’t have named them if I asked at the onset of the project.

 While this team might have looked homogeneous from a technical skill standpoint, they couldn’t have been more different. I realized we had a well-rounded team made of not-well rounded individuals with varying strengths.  From that day forward, we were a different team. I knew how to best leverage and focus each person. The team had always performed well, but now they were high performing. They started interacting with each other differently, seeking out one another for their strengths.

Research has consistently validated that diverse teams are higher performing and more collaborative. Diversity is not just someone’s ethnic and cultural background, it also includes their professional skills and strengths. Ever since then, I am intentional about forming diverse teams…and quickly getting them out into the world to observe their natural defaulting behaviors. Next time I am going to try improv comedy!