A machine can function very poorly even if all of its individual parts work very well.

A team can function very poorly even if all of the individual members are very good at what they do.

We tend to think of “differences” as being the things that separate us, and the opposite of that is “commonalities” – the things that make us the same. But that isn’t so. Especially when it comes to teams, we have to borrow a term from mathematics. The opposite of “difference” is “sum.”

You see, we’re all different people. But whether those differences make us work against one another or support one another has to do with the overall structure of the equation. A 35 and a 12 can be on the same team and they’ll remain a 35 and a 12. But whether the team as a whole is a 47 or a 23 depends on whether they’re combining their talents effectively or whether they’re pitted against one another.

In this way, a poorly-functioning machine might not be blamed on any one faulty part. Two gears might both be top-quality but be spinning in opposite directions. Taken in isolation, each gear looks fine – it’s only when you step back and look at the whole machine that you realize the issue.

Examine your teams this way, too. If the team’s results aren’t where you want them to be, don’t automatically look for a weak member. You might not find one. You might just find ten strong people all pulling in opposite directions. Fix the machine, fix the equation, fix the configuration. Then you’ll have sum success.

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