There Is No I in Voltron.
In looking back over the course of your professional career, which teams felt like you were a part of something special?
Why can’t every team be like that?
For the answer, we need to look to the model of all small, cross-functional and outcome focused teams… Voltron.
Beyond the colors of lions, are the people that pilot them.
Keith is the servant leader of the Voltron force and pilots the Black Lion. He’s like a zen master who doesn’t say a lot yet everyone looks to him for leadership. He empowers the rest of his team while raising the bar.
Hunk pilots the Yellow Lion and is a soft spoken, mechanic. When things break and sparks begin to fly, Hunk is your guy.
Lance is the quick tempered, flying ace of the Red Lion. He’s super talented but doesn’t always think through how his actions can offend other team members.
Sven is the stoic, calm under pressure pilot of the Blue Lion. He also sacrifices himself for his teammates, which is illustrated when he gets jacked up saving Lance from an attack by Haggar.
Pidge is the young, crazy smart pilot of the Green Lion. His brains save the team on multiple occasions, along with his empathy for the Space Mice who also assist the team.
Allura takes over piloting the Blue Lion after Sven gets all jacked up. She is very thoughtful in her actions, and effectively balances her princess duties while being a part of Voltron.
One of the major reasons this team works, is that there is enough diversity in both background, personality and skill that they can go wide on their ideas and strategy and end up in a better place for it. In addition, they support each other when things go wrong.
Would Voltron be as effective without an arm?
Nope, so when Sven goes down, Allura steps in. They have each other’s back and step into uncomfortable situations even though it isn’t in their job description.
A team full of Pidges wouldn’t work. It would be like your team having all business analysts.
Levels of Conflict.
Many of the teams I’ve advised over the years have been passive aggressive and conflict averse. The misconception here is that in theory, any type of conflict is a bad thing. In practice, conflict can be an asset to a team, especially when it is kept at a healthy level.
Levels 1 and 2 of conflict are when teams have a problem to solve and are openly disagreeing, while using a respectful tone. This is a good thing and much better than teams that just take all of that and push it down inside.
Sort of like the old saying, “It is the quiet ones you have to worry about”.
It is when conflict escalates beyond Level 2 though, that’s when we get into trouble.
Levels 3 to 5 are where it all begins to devolve into personal attacks, fight or flight and win at all costs scenarios. Those are levels in which the conflict can be destructive to a team. Many teams experience this and over correct to the “no conflict zone” mentality, which is a mistake.
Did Keith give Hunk a hard time about his weight when he disagreed how to fight a Robeast?
No, because Voltron kept the conflict at a healthy level.
Another key attribute of Voltron is that they are focused on achieving a meaningful outcome, to defend the universe.
More importantly, it is an outcome that they cannot achieve working apart as individuals.
Can a lion take on a Robeast all by himself?
Nope, too powerful.
It isn’t until they come together to form Voltron, that they can go and lay down the Blazing Sword justice and defend the universe. They aren’t measured on “lion optimization” or some other crap output metric that isn’t meaningful. Great teams have a common goal to guide them that tugs at something beyond their own ego.
Team Outcomes > Team Outputs.
Be More Like Voltron.
Can your team come together and save the universe?
To be honest, probably not.
However, if you can generate awareness of team values such as diversity, healthy levels of conflict and focus on meaningful outcomes, you might just be able to capture some of that magic you had years ago, on that one team, that was awesome.