Who is the Sandpaper Person on Your Team?

sandpaper person on your teamDoes someone on your team rub you the wrong way?

You know the one – the person that pushes your buttons and zigs when you want to zag?

You probably have a person in mind right now.  The one that for some reason you just don’t get along with and really don’t even like to be around.

Unfortunately, for most every organization, there is at least one person that is different – sometimes even difficult.  But as long as the person you are thinking of is not actively working against the team’ goals, instead of removing him or her, it may be more beneficial to consider the value they bring to not only the team, but to your personal development as well.

The reality is that we get along well – and easily – with those who share our personality traits and background.  They make us comfortable.  They validate our perspective and have similar insights.  They confirm us.

But often the most annoying and uncomfortable relationships we have are the ones that we most need to become better ourselves.

Whoever the “sandpaper person” is in your group, he or she provides a very important service to the group’s productivity.  John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, discusses his experience with this issue in Redesigning Leadership:

Working in a group where there are considerable differences and disagreements can be a pain. When I was in my twenties I worked at a small foundation in Tokyo. There was one gentleman whom everyone disliked. I asked the director, a wise and esteemed scientist who cofounded one of the largest corporations in Japan, why he didn’t just fire the guy. He gave me a quizzical look, as if that would be idiotic, and then replied, “Well, we need him, because an organization is like the human body. It needs viruses like him so the body can learn how to survive and remain strong.”

Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

In a similar way, Maeda goes on to explain that after he began speaking with “the team virus” a bit more often, he soon began to see the person’s better traits as well – and unique value.

Because the person had a different background from the rest of the team – and brought a very different perspective – that unique point of view helped the team to avoid making certain errors.

Perhaps it is difficult right now to appreciate the value of the person you have identified as difficult to work with… but when you understand the unique skills that each person brings to the group, you can learn to better appreciate the friction that sometimes arises—and maybe even see it as an opportunity for personal growth.

They say that the people around us are God’s sandpaper – sent to help smooth the edges of our personality.  We can all do with the removal of some rough edges – perhaps your challenge is in finding the value and positive contributions of everyone on your team.

Great teams are built with diverse parts.  We don’t grow by spending all our time with others who are like us.  Maybe we need a team virus to keep us strong.

If you think your people need to work better together, and want them to have fun while experiencing the challenge of activities that illustrate the value of all voices on your team, consider scheduling a team building event that will allow them to learn more about each other and devlop valuable leadership and communication skills. 

Learning to work with the sandpaper person in your organization can make your people much more effective – and will transform your group into a more productive TEAM.