Editor’s note: Triangle entrepreneur and thought leader Jes Averhart, CEO of Jes & Co and host of the “Reinvention Road Trip,” is a regular WRAL TechWire contributor who explores topics pertaining to reinvention, especially prompted by the onset of the global pandemic. Her columns appear weekly. This week she discusses her “Fab 4” framework.

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I’m not a Pollyanna… I’d say I’m more like a bright and hopeful realist. That means I like to think about the positive aspects of working with each of the Fab 4. I like to think of creators as brilliant, builders as reliable, sustainers as diligent, and disruptors as intuitive. And they all are! But they also have shadow sides… you know the whole “too-much-of-a-good-thing” thing.  So, it’s good to know what these are—and how to mitigate the challenges that accompany them when they show up in the workplace.

Graphic courtesy of Jes Averhart

Creators

Known for: Waking up at 3am with epiphanies.

The creator on your team may strike you as overflowing with energy. Their ideas may even have resulted in the products, services or methodology that serves as your company’s bread-and-butter.

The creator’s shadow side: They can be distracting.

The shadow side of the creator becomes a challenge when their bright new ideas interfere with the team’s ability to actually get anything done. Think Ellis Dragon on the Netflix show Unstable. His mission is to invent carbon-capturing concrete that would “lock up greenhouse gasses for centuries,” but he distracts his team with invisibility cloaks and… hawks?

Words the creator’s shadow side might say: “Hey team, I had this great idea last night while I was playing pickle ball… can’t wait to share!”

Damage control: Silencing a creator is like trying to cap a volcano, so you’ll want to resist the urge to suppress their never-ending flood of new ideas. Instead, set up a way to cache and rank ideas as they come up. Your creator needs an outlet for these ideas (as their biggest fear is that a truly amazing idea will be overlooked or lost), and many times their ideas are exactly what takes the company to the next level.

Try the following:

  • Devote a kanban board to ideas, and include 30-day, 60-day, 90-day and backlog options for storing new ideas.
  • Designate a specific time to review “old” ideas on a regular basis so your creator doesn’t become convinced that their ideas are lost if they don’t act on them immediately.

Jes Averhart

Builders

Known for: Getting it done.

Builders are the ones out there making it happen. They build the product your company sells or grow the company to the next level. They take the ideas the creator dreamed up and turn them into reality.

The builder’s shadow side: They get tunnel vision.

Here’s the problem: the builder is so invested in building the current project that they can’t imagine changing course.

Words the builder’s shadow side might say: “We’re on a roll… we can’t change course now because we’re making too much progress!”

Damage control: The builder may need help seeing that what they’ve built already is sufficient, or they may need assurances that they will be empowered to finish what they’ve started before they are asked to move to another project.

Try talking to them about the following:

  • “Your work on this project has been invaluable, it’s exactly what we needed. You’ve positioned us well for this next chapter.”
  • “You really proved yourself on this last project. Now your skills are needed on this other project, and I can’t imagine handing it to anyone else.”

Inside a Fab 4 (creators, builders, sustainers, disruptors) team: What to do when wires get crossed

Sustainers

Known for: Getting deep in the weeds—so deep that they know each weed by name.

They are the well of reliability and consistency, moving the work of the builder along behind the scenes.

The sustainer’s shadow side: They grow complacent.

The sustainer gains so much satisfaction from efficiency and order that they are resistant to change. After all, it takes time and effort to get a team working like a well-oiled machine, right? All that sunk cost makes change a scary proposition.

Words the sustainer’s shadow side might say: “We’ve finally got all our ducks in a row. Don’t change a thing!”

Damage control: You may need to invest additional time into explaining the benefits of change to a sustainer. If you can throw in a carrot like, “After this change, things will run even more smoothly,” you’ll win brownie points.

To help a sustainer see reason, ask questions like:

  • “Do you agree that long-term efficiency is an important goal?”
  • “Can you see the long-term benefits of us adopting this new system?”
  • “The following are big-picture benefits of this change. Can you get behind this—for the sake of the team at large?”

Disruptors

Known for: Blowing things up to make room for potentially better things.

Disruptors have the ability to look ahead and see the potholes in the road that nobody else notices; some of them appear practically psychic in their ability to foresee opportunities or, for that matter… impending doom.

The disruptor’s shadow side: The naysayer.

Sometimes disruptors get too comfortable in their roles. When it starts to be easier to dissent than to actually make progress, they may take pleasure in being the “brave one who says no” and relish the conflict more than the actual outcomes.

Words their shadow side might say: “No. Nope. No way. None of it. Never.” Followed by, “Burn it all to the ground!”

Damage control: The disruptor sometimes needs to be checked, and this can be tricky territory to navigate.

Ideally, the team member with the best rapport with the disruptor can get involved, asking questions like:

  • “Can you help me understand how your suggestion benefits the team?”
  • “Can we do a cost-benefit analysis together of your suggested change versus staying the course?”

Bottom line, the Fab 4 is a powerful framework to better understand the contributions of high performing teams. But the crucial key to unlocking that power is acknowledging that each contributor comes with their own special sauce… and potential shadow side. Try applying this framework at your next team meeting. Ask good questions about where folks see themselves and commit to leveraging strengths.

In other words, be the team that everyone’s talking about.

More from Jes Averhart

Fighting burnout: There’s much restorative power in finding meaning