Better Teamwork Through Chemistry

A friend and I were recently engaged in an online conversation about who would appear on our Mt. Rushmore of Rock in the following categories: guitar, front man, bass, keyboards, and drums.

By “Mt. Rushmore of Rock,” we meant the 4 individuals in each category whose significance, influence, notoriety, and skill puts them on a different level than their peers. After I completed my lists, my friend noticed that I’d included all 4 members of Led Zeppelin in their respective categories: Robert Plant for front man, Jimmy Page for guitar, John Paul Jones for bass, and John “Bonzo” Bonham for drums.

“Pretty amazing to have all 4 guys from LZ,” my friend wrote. “It’s another fun way to confirm to non-LZ fans that they are clearly the greatest band of all time.”

“With Zep, it was all about chemistry,” I responded. “The piercing blues wail of Plant, the testosterone crunch of Page’s licks, the chunky bass of Jones, and the thunder of Bonzo made for a one-of-a-kind sound that set the stage for thousands of bands that followed.”

That got me thinking about the nature of team chemistry in general — what it is, why it matters, and how to cultivate it. An article on the website Chron defines team chemistry as “the dynamic that arises from the different qualities each team member contributes and the interactions of team members with each other.” I like that definition because it’s straightforward, concise, and dispenses with the notion that “chemistry” is some magical, elusive thing.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christfort suggest that team chemistry is achieved by effectively leveraging four primary work styles:

  • Pioneers value possibilities, and they spark energy and imagination on their teams. They believe risks are worth taking and that it’s fine to go with your gut. Their focus is big-picture. They’re drawn to bold new ideas and creative approaches.
  • Guardians value stability, and they bring order and rigor. They’re pragmatic, and they hesitate to embrace risk. Data and facts are baseline requirements for them, and details matter. Guardians think it makes sense to learn from the past.
  • Drivers value challenge and generate momentum. Getting results and winning count most. Drivers tend to view issues as black-and-white and tackle problems head on, armed with logic and data.
  • Integrators value connection and draw teams together. Relationships and responsibility to the group are paramount. Integrators tend to believe that most things are relative. They’re diplomatic and focused on gaining consensus.

“The four styles give leaders and their teams a common language for discussing similarities and differences in how people experience things and prefer to work,” write the authors. “Groups come to appreciate why certain times feel so challenging (that is, which perspectives and approaches are at odds), and they also begin to recognize the potential power in their differences.”

You can read about how to manage these styles here. It’s great advice. And yet for all the data gathering, analysis, and style categorization, I can’t help but think there is something about team chemistry that eludes explanation, some intangible quality no definition, model, or theory fully captures. As a musician, I would call it a sense of being in sync, in rhythm, in harmony with one another. You can’t see or touch it, but you can sure feel it. In Zeppelin’s case, chemistry showed up as that one-of-a-kind, instantly identifiable sound that could only be produced by those four musicians and no others. Here’s just one example:

How does chemistry show up on your team?  Are your team members “in the groove”?  There are lots of proven ways to get them there.  Let’s talk!