3 behaviors top teams avoid to excel in struggle

The bad news is struggle will define the next 5 years. The good news is those who excel in struggle will define the next 20 years.
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3 behaviors top teams avoid to excel in struggle

By: Chad Pearson

The bad news is struggle will define the next 5 years.

The good news is those who excel in struggle will define the next 20 years.

Thankfully, top teams who consistently outperform competitors, regardless of the struggles they face, share one common thread we can all learn from in order to build teams that not only excel in struggle, but absolutely love it.

A little warning first. This is a long article so if you’re concerned about the next 5 years, set some time aside…If you have the time, we got the tips. Enjoy!

Here we go; Many teams use their collective wisdom and historical data to predict and plan but that’s not enough anymore. While past behavior has normally been a great predictor of future behavior, we now live in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) where the future is unpredictable and how people interact is changing. 

Past experience and metrics are becoming dangerously unreliable for predicting and planning for the future of our VUCA world.

Top teams who excel in struggle and constantly outperform others go beyond metrics and focus heavily on preventing price’s law from infecting their team.  Teams who prevent price’s law turn the struggle of VUCA scenarios into advantages instead of obstacles while taking immense pleasure in doing so.  Following their path may be the single most effective way to crush the next 5 years while becoming a defining force for the next 20.

What is price’s law? Price’s law is an imbalance of effort on the team that gets worse as groups get bigger. 

The law itself says that “the square root of the total number of people in a group completes 50% of the work, while the rest of the group shares the remaining 50%”

For example:

  • If there are 10 people in a group, approximately 3 people do 50% of the work and 7 share the remaining 50%.
  • If there are 25 people in a group, approximately 5 people do 50% of the work and 20 share the remaining 50%.
  • In a group of 100 people, approximately 10 people complete 50% of the work and 90 share the remaining 50%.

Any reasonable person would agree that price’s law exposes unfairness between those who invest their best effort, often referred to as ‘The Roots’ or ‘A Players’ versus those who invest just enough effort to get by.  Even though most would agree, few try to prevent it when it becomes visible.

How do top teams prevent price’s law?

Top teams who consistently outperform others, despite challenges, maintain an exclusive culture of performance and family-like chemistry that naturally protects them from price’s law in the same way strong families care for each other and protect each other from threats and harmful behaviors.  

Our company, Plexxis, creates software for subcontractors. As subcontractors work in a VUCA industry, we have been hyper focused on maintaining a culture that prevents price’s law for over 20 years. Of the dozens of tactics we use at Plexxis, the MOST important for maintaining a strong culture that prevent price’s law is our ‘protect and serve’ mindset.

We serve the team by providing everything they need to succeed while protecting them from threats and 3 categories of harmful behaviors;

  • Distracting
  • Destructive
  • Incompatible 

As leaders protect and serve the team, teammates protect and serve each other by giving their best effort to make each day easier for everyone while supporting each other through bad days and protecting each other from bad habits.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the 3 categories of behaviors we avoid in order to prevent price’s law and excel in struggle.

Category 1 of 3: Distracting behaviors

An exceptional experiment called ‘The Bad Apple Experiment’, by Will Felps from the University of South Wales identifies 3 distracting. (You can read about the experiment and how it ties to culture in; ‘The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle). 

 Felps labels the behaviors as;

  • The Jerk (aggressive and defiant)
  • The Downer (has a tired depressive attitude)
  • The Slacker (withholds effort)

While these 3 types of behaviors impact teams differently, Felps showed that all 3 categories of behaviors decreased the effectiveness of the groups by about 30%.

In short, when there’s a Jerk in the room, people don’t feel safe enough to open up, which harms the team and their outcomes.  

When there’s a downer in the room who starts telling everyone how tired they are and show physical signs of defeat, such as hanging their head low, others in the room start behaving the same way and adopt the low energy attitude. In a relatively short period of time, others have their heads down and arms folded just like the downer.  

When there’s a slacker in the room, the group quickly picks up on the vibe. They tend to get their work done faster but do half-assed jobs. What’s interesting is that they end up believing they are doing good work when in fact, it is not good work at all. They simply pick up on the bad attitude and their insufficient work ends up hurting the team.  

Felp’s experiment also found that when strong teammates lead engagements, deflect negativity and keep others engaged, the harmful behavior was mitigated.

An important thing to recognize here is that attributes like intelligence, talent, experience and other abilities you find on resumes matter much less than people’s attitudes and interactions.  It is not what people do…it is how they interact that is most important. 

When teammates are aware of distracting attitudes they bring into action, they can put effort into a healthier mindset that helps them be their best while maintaining an environment that helps others be their best.

Category 2 of 3: Destructive behaviors 

Cutting these people from the team is usually an easy decision as they are so toxic to the team. The challenge with these people is when they are owners, family, friends or key talent such as CFOs, controllers or top salespeople. 

In that scenario where the destructive behavior is from an owner, friend, family member or key talent, leaders can lack the courage to protect the team.  This lack of courage comes a great cost.

It may help those in this scenario to know that this scenario is the leader’s biggest opportunity to show the team how important they are. The single courageous act of cutting seemingly indispensable people who are toxic can reset an entire team on an incredible path. 

There are many destructive behaviors, but we labelled 4 as the top behaviors needing swift decisive action in order to protect teammates;

  • HENIs (Hoarder of Information, Emotional, Narcissistic, Impatient)
  • LALAs (Low Attention, Low Absorption)
  • Smiling Assassins 
  • Entitled

The HENI is that person who hoards information, is highly emotional, narcissistic and impatient. These behaviors by themselves are manageable, and at times can be found in any one of us, but together they are a destructive cancer that needs to be cut out from any team.

These are the types of people who need to control the world around them and are willing to make their teammates lives more difficult in order to maintain their own comfort.  They will consistently inconvenience others just so they can get what they want while refusing to learn about, and empathize with other perspectives.

The LALA is that person who willfully invests low attention to teammates and tasks and fails to stay in step with the team. They have a disregard for mission, self and team and tend to spend their time on things that have little to no value to anyone.

Every working hour that a teammate invests into ‘low attention and low absorption’ re-distributes workload onto other teammates while the lack of attention to detail often results in errors that require other teammates to repair later.  

LALAs are not to be confused with neurodiversity.  Those with conditions such as ADHD or dyslexia do not choose to pay less attention while in action and when provided the right environment, they can be among the highest performing and most caring teammates.  

LALAs choose to give their attention away to other things that result in harm to teammates, the mission and even their own heath.

Today’s biggest threat in relation to LALAs are online distractions. Social tech companies have invested trillions of dollars into creating ways of stealing people’s time and attention while influencing human behavior. Depending on the study you read, people are interrupted by their phones between 90-160 time per day. This is not healthy in any arena, let alone on a team, but it shows how powerful social tech tactics have become.

Social tech is so good at what they do that many people cannot even drive a car without checking their devices. So many people have fallen victim to social tech tactics that distracted driving laws had to be put in place in order to keep people alive.  Even car manufactures have started building lane automation to keep drivers in their lanes. (Let that sink in)

LALAs are extremely susceptible to social tech’s theft of time and attention. Just like distracted driving, an effective way to protect teammates from LALAs is to mandate and educate.

Mandates command a healthy use of devices and online content while education informs of the risks to mission, self and the team so teammates can make healthier decisions on their own.

Smiling assassins are those who are nice in front of you but gossip and undermine you in secrecy. While everyone deserves a chance to improve their behaviors, this type of behavior should be considered a one strike you’re out violation.     

Entitled are those who believe oneself to be deserving of special accommodation. Entitled behavior is difficult to change but not impossible.  At Plexxis, we use a marco/micro empathy test to help make decisions on personal accommodations. When someone has a personal ‘micro’ request, we test to see if it fits and helps the team ‘macro’ mission. If the marco and micro fit, the accommodation is considered.

Category 3 of 3: Incompatible behaviors

These behaviors are extremely challenging to avoid in today’s environment as they can be great people who are among the most talented, highest skilled, have the deepest experience and exceptional demonstrated success….but they are incompatible with the attributes of top teams. 

The 2 incompatible behaviors are;

  • Lone producers
  • Remote workers

Lone Producers are incredible performers who continuously outperform everyone else in their arena. They are the workaholics who never say die.  They almost always win. They are the top talent that recruiters dream of and that companies strive to hire as they are so good at what they do…but they are not team players.  

Lone producers are exceptional by themselves, as entrepreneurs or as a part of organizations who have transactional models that can operate with open, flexible remote teaming environments.   

Companies who depend on culture and tight cohesive teams, however, take a huge risk hiring lone producers.

Remote workers operate in isolation while culture is created in proximity. 

This alone makes remote workers incompatible with teams who maintain a culture that prevents price’s law. The isolation and transactional nature of remote work is literally the exact opposite of the proximity and interactions at the core of top teams. 

Even when the economy is comfortable and predictable, remote workers lower the effectiveness of communication, degrade culture and can even compound physical and mental health concerns as the benefits of group care and chemistry are removed. But in VUCA environments, these negative effects of isolation are exacerbated.  

Why is proximity so influential?

The MIT Human Dynamics Lab, run by Alex Pentland, studies group chemistry and connection. The lab’s research affirms what top teams feel every day, that our brains rely on signals and belonging cues such as eye contact, attention, body language and tonality in close proximity to let them know that it is safe to be with the group and that the group likely has a strong future together.

In short, our brains are designed to work in close proximity to others. 

For over 95% of the time our ancestors have been on this earth, we did not have language. Language is only around 200,000 years old yet the survival of our species in the 5-6 million years prior was dependent on behavioral cues and signaling. Our brains are incredibly effective at receiving cues and signals.

This connection from non-linguistic cues and signals creates a chemistry and a strong team culture but it is entirely dependent on close physical proximity. 

This is further supported by outstanding research by Daniel Coyle, author of the Culture Code, on some of the highest performing teams in the world. What was most interesting was the following list of core attributes that existed in all teams.

  • Close physical proximity 
  • A lot of eye contact
  • A lot physical touching such as handshakes and hugs
  • Ample short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High levels of mixing where everyone talks to everyone
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions and intensive active listening
  • Humor and laughter
  • Attentive courtesies such as saying thank you and opening doors for each other
  • And finally, the teams had chemistry that was addictive.   

Our close proximity culture at Plexxis is core to our existence so we can validate, first hand, both the presence of these attributes above, and the intrinsic value they provide. 

Those considering proximity in their strategy to prevent price’s law should know it comes at great cost.  A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that 96% of employees seek the flexibility and freedom of remote work. Embracing this type of culture can limit recruiting to the 4% of workers who enjoy proximity, team cohesion and struggle over flexibility, personal accommodation and comfort. 

Our hiring process at Plexxis is designed around finding that 4% crazy misfits like us who enjoy our type of culture. It’s a huge price to pay but we gladly pay it as the benefits to the team, mission and personal well being far exceed cost.

As companies navigate the struggle of the next 5 years, the biggest challenge they face might not be the economy itself. It will likely be dealing with price’s law within their own group.  

Those who embrace the path paved by the word’s top teams may not only define the next couple decades, but the lessons learned, relationships earned and stories in their journey will be defining factors in their lives.