There is no big shot in our team!

“THERE IS NO BIG SHOT IN OUR TEAM!”, a phrase very commonly heard at any workplace. Doesn’t this statement seem bit contradictory? We refer to a TEAM and yet look for ONE big shot. Where is the team work, where is the leveraging of team members’ strengths as a whole? Is the vast ocean made of a single big drop of water? What makes us ignore or not capitalize on the strengths of all the team members? Is it too much of focus on their weaknesses or our being control freaks that leads us to focus mainly on the tasks to be delivered and not exceeding the delivery expectations?

I couldn’t help but ponder more on this after reading the following excerpt from “WINGS OF FIRE”  [chapter 13] – the autobiography of India’s ex-president, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam:


The young engineers, 280 to be precise, changed the dynamics of DRDL*. It was a valuable experience for all of us. We were now in a position to develop, through these young teams, a re-entry technology and structure, a millimetric wave radar, a phased array radar, rocket systems and other such equipment. When we first assigned these tasks to the young scientists, they did not fully grasp the importance of their work. Once they did, they felt uneasy under the burden of the tremendous faith placed in them. I still remember one young man telling me, “There is no big shot in our team, how will we be able to break through?” I told  him, “A big shot is a little shot who keeps on shooting, so keep trying.” It was astonishing to see how in the young scientific environment, negative attitudes changed to positive and things that were previously thought impractical began happening. Many older scientists were rejuvenated simply by being part of a young team. It has been my personal experience that the true flavour, the real fun, the continuous excitement of work lies in the process of doing it rather than in having it over and done with. To return to the four basic factors that I am convinced with are involved in successful outcomes: goal-setting, positive thinking, visualizing and believing.

*DRDL – Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad


Some key learnings that I could derive from this excerpt from a man who had the vision and could empower India’s youth to bring about a revolution:

* A small task isn’t really small when seen from a bigger perspective.

* Every effort in the right direction matters, even if it is miniscule.

* Never underestimate the strength of your team, capitalize on each member’s strength. One plus one does make eleven!

* Don’t just show your team that you’ve faith in them but also inspire and empower them to deliver.

* Don’t give up but believe in yourself and just do it.

* A right vision and a strong inspiration is very important to make any team shine.

* Bring about a synergy by combining the experience of the old with the skills of the young.


Turning employees’ emotions to their/team’s strengths

The early morning breeze felt so soothing and rejuvenating that the day already seemed too positive and brighter to me until I saw Ritika [*name changed to ensure privacy] sitting with a gloomy face as soon as I entered my work area. I instantly felt that I could ‘choose’ between getting upset on seeing Ritika in sad mood and helping her revive her energy so that she’s happy. I opted for the latter, an obvious choice for me most of the time.

This scenario isn’t very new at the workplace. Ritika was just another person who couldn’t hide her emotions and that was showing off in her work now.

My good morning wish to Ritika did not elicit an exciting response as I had expected. She didn’t say much on my probing her about how she was feeling… I decided to come back to her in a few minutes sensing that she wanted to talk to somebody and share her feelings…

Ten minutes later I got up from my desk and invited Ritika to join me for coffee if she wanted to. She felt good with the offer as that meant a bit of break for her from work, which is what she needed at that time.

After normal talks with her about the day and the weather [I intentionally avoided any work-related discussions then], she started feeling bit relaxed and gave me a meek smile. That was quite unusual of Ritika as she’s known for her giggles at the workplace. It made me a bit worried about her and I said, “Today Ritika isn’t looking too nice!”. She seemed bit surprised at this statement of mine when she was expecting me to do some talks to pep her up.

I continued, “Today a nice smile is missing from Ritika’s face and she can tell me if I can help her in any way to bring it back. Even the team is missing her giggles today.” This made her smile a bit and I could see her feeling bit proud on hearing these remarks which showed that her giggles do help in creating a good work environment, which of course, was a big contribution from her. She felt important and comfortable at the same time. I decided not to ask her any questions but rather encourage her to speak herself, which is always a better thing to do if any team member is not feeling good about anything. On seeing that she was feeling bit relaxed now I said, “That was a nice coffee… Let’s get back to work now and you cheer up and have a great day!”… She suddenly stopped me and told that she wanted to discuss something…

I feel that such discussions should be encouraged with the team members. These help in gaining good insights into an employee’s mindset, what concerns him/her, what can be done to make him feel better, some fresh insights on the improvement areas in the workplace/work approach/managing strategies/organization etc. These also help build a good team environment and rapport with the team. But the first objective for any such discussion should be to help the person feel better and focus on work. However, at the same time, such discussions should not be done purely on judgmental basis but rather should be seen as a way to empower people to think, analyze and make their own decisions and also identify their strengths as a person/professional.

As a result, I invited Ritika to come to a lobby with me, which was a better place to discuss. She told me that she had been staying as a paying guest and sharing room with 4 other girls. She has been really nice to all of them, cooking food for them, cleaning the house and taking care of most of the daily chores – without seeking any help from the rest of them. The reason of her being upset was that she was not feeling well the previous night so couldn’t cook food. This annoyed all other girls and they ordered her to cook for them. Ritika felt bad at their reaction and also at their being so thankless to her, who had been taking care of most of their responsibilities at the house. She felt as if she was being treated as a servant…

Now this gave me insight into lot of interesting aspects about her strengths, for example: her willingness to help others, dedication and hard work, contribution to creating a good work environment with her sense of humor [as team was missing it that day!]… At the same time, I could see a few areas of improvement clearly, which if groomed further could make her a very good person and a good professional at the same time.

Again, the choice is ours – whether to take the later as her ‘weaknesses’ and deny her higher responsibilities all together OR putting her strengths to best use along with identify training needs for her/team and grooming her in turning her improvement areas to her strengths.

 I again opted for the latter as I’ve always strongly believed in the people power, which is just there to get unleashed and be put to a productive use. Here, we need to be extra careful and not make the person feel that he/she is being judged based on her discussions. We need to encourage that person and do our work at the back-end.

A very important thing came out during this discussion. Ritika was a great person and trying to give her best all the time but what she needed to understand the ‘ownership’ aspect of work – whether at home or in the job. I told her that it was great on her part to help out her room mates but at the same time she was setting wrong expectations for them and also letting them take her for granted. Her approach was making her a victim of their demands and also discouraging them from taking care of their own responsibilities at her expense. Moreover, she was losing on her self-respect.

She agreed to this and realized that she was doing a big mistake. After she understood the message clearly, she got up and said, “Now I know how to take care of this”. Next morning, she was beaming and instantly rushed to me on seeing me in the office. She said, “Thanks a lot! My roommates had tried to repeat the same thing today but I made it very clear to them that they have to do their share of tasks and also behave nicely to me. They got surprised at my reaction but it seems that they have got the message”. Although I felt that she was being bit too direct to them but was also happy that she got the message.

I felt very happy for Ritika and at the same time, I decided on the next step for the entire team – A small training on “RACI”: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed: A matrix to describe the roles and responsibilities of team/people to deliver a project or operate a process.

A small incident had helped me gain so many insights and of course, helping myself/my team also become a better person and a professional.

Key takeaways from this example that can be implemented at the professional level:


1. Work as a TEAM. Sharing responsibilities and knowledge is good when required.

2. Keep the team environment and objective in mind.

3. Honestly perform your duties and responsibilities

4. Take ownership of tasks and also encourage others to perform the tasks assigned to them

5. Learn to delegate and empower others too to perform and grow. Build leaders.


1. Never encourage other team members to SHIRK their responsibilities when they are supposed to perform them.

2. Never lose on your self-respect by letting others take your goodness for granted. Take the right steps with dignity without being violent, abusive or aggressive.

3. Do not set wrong expectations.

4. Do not be too selfish or individualistic.

Random experiences during team management

Managing teams and working in groups has always been one of the best ways for me to learn and grow. Here are some interesting observations that I have made during past few years of handling teams. Few of these have helped me to a great extent in improving work environment, understanding team/individual and organization’s expectations, enhancing efficiency and productivity, besides team morale..  [I’ll take up the details on each of these experiences in my future posts]

– Some of the teams had been really wonderful, where members appreciate each other’s strengths and enjoy work. However, there are still a few everywhere who “DO NOT KNOW” how to enjoy the work. They ‘choose’ to crib and hence don’t give their best shot.

– It’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well [different business units and stakeholders within the organization] and look towards building strong relationships with them. The idea is while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. This helps the teams to get identified as a reservoir of energy and not just a department in some organization. Company meet and team’s day do help to an extent.. but interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.

– At times, we don’t have a choice for the kind of work and it’s being assigned to us, however, we can always make a choice of how to do that work.. Since not many know this, lack of energy & enthusiasm and sudden drifts in the willingness to work are visible among members.

– Giving real life examples, telling inspirational stories, does make 5% difference for a few days but again things are back to the same stage. The energy level vanishes soon because some people are concerned about their personal problems, some don’t feel happy with the work they are doing, some are not happy with the external customers they are working with and some have other concerns like salary, infrastructure, career path etc.. Mostly this happens when they have not seen the bigger picture of the industry, of the professional life and even the personal life.. They take decisions but not with a very high maturity level. Having a mentor or one-on-one sessions regularly helps to a major extent and results are reflected in terms of increased efficiency, good morale, pro-activeness among members.

– Every individual has IMMENSE FIRE hidden in himself/herself, however, it is very important for managers to identify that and ignite it before it loses its light and energy. The point is: it’s easy to let the good people go but extremely tough to retain that fire at right place.

– Some of the organizations I’ve worked with have amazing management committment towards its people. The formation of core groups in such organizations has been successful in setting the right example for everyone.

– Organizations do have strong Core values listed, however, the focus on implementation isn’t much, though exceptions are there. For example, Creativity as one of the core values looks wonderful on the hung plaque, however, if properly implemented can assist in turning people into organization’s assets.

– Teams need to be made aware of the importance of “attitude towards work”. Talking can help to an extent, however, making the teams visit places where people work with full energy and involving them in some interesting activity with those people can bring good changes. More you see is more you learn.

– Make the work fun, by starting small contests, like “idea of the month”, having a creativity board to allow free flow of thoughts, having an award system based on customer’s recommendation – these little things always help.

Shall continue sharing my learnings and experiences…