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The Odds are Good…

A few weeks ago, we visited the Ochre Mines of Bruoux in Provence. Over 40km of these huge and strangely magical tunnels were carved out of the sand (in what was once a seabed) between 1880 and 1950. 

The miners always worked in pairs, one working on the left and one working on the right. For this reason, each pair ideally consisted of a left-handed person (a ‘gaucher’, as we’re called in France) and a right-handed person. If you didn’t have a left-handed friend, you’d need to be ambidextrous - or know someone who was. 

This means that at a time when left-handed people were often stigmatised and forced to use their right hands, in this little corner of Provence, they were valued because of their difference; because of their oddness.  

There’s an important lesson here about what makes teams strong.

Too often, still, people recruit in their own image. And for too long the world of work has been dominated by thinking echoed in phrases like ‘cut from the same cloth’, ‘one of the boys’ or ‘being of one mind’. 

And it’s often the case that we try to bend people to roles, rather than bending the roles to them. Or we try to fit people into jobs they’re blatantly not suited for, sometimes to help their development and sometimes, perhaps, to help them fail. For example, in my first career, I was twice given a job as a PA, a job I despised, and was entirely unsuited to. I have enough trouble remembering what I’m supposed to be doing, and where I’m supposed to be at any given point, yet alone someone else. 

What success I’ve enjoyed in life has come from my ‘oddness’ and from being surrounded by people who are odd in different ways. At Glasstap, we revel in the fact we’re all so different, so odd. Take Louise, for example. She’s probably the most outwardly ‘normal’ of us all, and yet she doesn’t mind filling in supplier forms, so is quite clearly as batty as a barm cake. 

From my perspective! Because our view of what’s normal is always based on our view of self.

The point I’m making is that odd is good. Odd is the unique set of skills, attributes and preferences that sets each of us apart and which means we can bring something special to the party. In our team, we have extraverts and introverts. We have highly creative people and those who focus on details. We have those who love change and those who’d prefer things didn’t change too much. We have those who work in short bursts of energy when they’re completely oblivious to what’s going on around them (I’m one of those) and those who are more likely to work quietly and methodically at the same pace all day. 

We don’t need to understand why people are different to us. We just need to be thankful that they are. After all, isn’t it great that there are people out there who enjoy doing the things we hate, and can do them much better than we could? That there are people who ‘get’ situations, things, and people we find difficult. That there are people who can fill the gaps we leave.

As the miners realised in Provence, it is our differences that make a team strong, not our sameness. 

Here’s a few activities form Trainers’ Library that will help you identify and capitalise on the differences in your teams:

Until next time…

October 3 2023Rod Webb

Rod Webb

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