Have you ever worked in a team where there was one team member who nobody liked and who nobody wanted to work with? I joined an organisation where one of the teams had an ‘odd man out’. He wasn’t as fast on the uptake as the other developers, he always asked lots of basic and obvious questions and he didn’t stick to team decisions. Nobody wanted to work with him, they didn’t respect him and he knew it.
Interestingly, when I ask people what they would do in this type of situation, their solutions always concentrate on how to change the behaviour of the individual so that they can fit into the team better. The view is that the ‘odd man out’ is the cause of the problem. But is that always the case?
I tried a couple of different things.
- I asked the team to allow the ‘odd man out’ to ask his all of his questions and not to stop him when they got annoyed, which was their normal behaviour. They rolled their eyes somewhat but agreed. When he was allowed to ask all of his questions he often found fundamental issues with the way in which the team intended to solve a problem. These issues would have been discovered at some point but allowing him to ask his questions, and so finding problems earlier, enabled the team to produce better approaches and deliver value more quickly.
- I asked the team to send out a quick email following any meeting where a decision had been made with a sentence describing each decision. Interestingly, once they started to do that, the ‘odd man out’ followed each and every decision which the team had made. For some people hearing a verbal decision doesn’t feel as ‘real’ as a decision which they see written down. I know a number of people like this and it is the first thing I try when I hear that people are not following decisions made in meetings.
Over time the team came to value the skills which the ‘odd man out’ brought. He was so valuable because he was different from the rest of the team. He thought differently and so was able to bring something unique, breaking them out of their group think. We should be celebrating our ‘odd men out’ as a source of neuro-diversity and a potential route into competitive advantage.