Photograph of a wall painted with multi-coloured, interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces, By Ashkan Forouzani

Building teams that work well together is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things you can do. It’s not easy and sometimes it has taken a couple of iterations to figure it out, but I’ve learned one little trick that helps.

It’s OK Not to Know

There is a lot of pressure on people today to know everything and be good at everything. Social media floods our eyes with perfection and success; a filtered utopia where everyone is thin and beautiful and rich, all of the time.

Breaking news: social media is not reality.

We all need to be kinder to ourselves and to give ourselves permission to not be perfect. We mustn’t hold ourselves to the standard of anyone else – except who we were yesterday. Just being who we are is usually more than enough for any given situation.

Reflecting on your strengths and your weaknesses is healthy but we can spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about gaps in our skills. It’s vital you take time to recognise what you’ve achieved and what you CAN do.

Being honest about what you’re good at and what you’re not good at is important, not just for you, but for the rest of your team.

Tabs and Pockets

Did you know that the parts of a jigsaw puzzle piece that connect together are called tabs (stick-out bits) and pockets (cutouts)?

Thinking of yourself and your team as a set of jigsaw pieces is a perfect way to build collaborate teams that, when they connect together properly, become more than the sum of its parts.

I appreciate, jigsaws as a metaphor for teams is nothing new, but bear with me.

As an individual contributor (IC), think about your strengths, skills and domain knowledge as “tabs” – a core part of you, but a capability you can share with others simply by connecting with them.

You could even list your “tabs” on a profile page on your team page on the internal knowledge base (you have one of those, right…?) to make experts easier to find.

Consider any gaps in your skills or knowledge as “pockets”, and try to find someone on your team who has that knowledge with whom you can connect when you need it.

Unlike jigsaw pieces, we can learn, grow and adapt. The more you work with people who have skills you don’t, the more you’ll learn from them.

Pockets turn into tabs over time

Dynamic Reteaming

As a team leader, you should be able to start identifying sympathetic strengths and weaknesses across your team and ensuring you have as complete a puzzle as possible.

Thinking in this way also helps you find missing pieces in teams. Where there is a gap, ICs can escalate to team leads. Team leads should be working with other team leads to ensure a good distribution of skills and experience across the department – where the IC is happy to, experts can drop into other teams to support and fill skill gaps as necessary. This is what Heidi Helfand calls Dynamic Reteaming:

Doubling-up a skill in a team is fine, in fact, it is preferred. Key-person-dependencies should always be discouraged – even just to allow people to take time off!

In closing

Building teams is fun, complicated and rewarding.

There is now a body of knowledge that we can lean on to help us form effective teams. The ideas I gravitate towards include:

Hope this is useful!