Phase 4 – Enlightened Teamwork – “The Wonders of Work-Pairing” -03.13.18

by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®

“How many times are two heads better than one?”


 Some while back this writer was involved with an executive team of seven, as they set about envisioning their way forward. After around 2-3 hours of highly engaged discussion, they had clarified their way forward along with its associated key issues. They prioritized those issues from their final listing to produce a top three.


Shortly after, their leader encouraged them to pair-up in a complementary manner, based upon prior-objective-personal-survey insights, and then each pair volunteered to focus on one of those top three priorities. Such priority-action reinforced the art of trying not to focus on too many things at once. An hour or so later, each pair had developed an on-going action initiative; covering the headings – What? How? Who? When? Where? – the last being where they go for allies outside of their domain. Their initiatives were formulated to

optimally resolve and implement items associated with their key chosen priority.  It was then vital for their group leader to encourage progress by showing ongoing interest until completion and then celebrate success. By celebrating success in an inexpensive and sincere manner, the chances are the team and pairs will look forward to doing it again.


Just recently, this writer was also involved with a team of five executives. Coupled with their leader, there were four on this senior team. So, the four set-about discussing their forthcoming issues and to eventually rank-order them. Once prioritized, they formed two pair-sets to create action initiatives and move ahead with implementation. Again, their leader proceeded to encourage and keep them focused until completion. Celebrating their success was also essential.


Work-pairing – used correctly – can be highly effective, but is too often an underutilized approach for getting important things accomplished. We’ve clung to the traditional way of doling out individual assignments and then expecting solo efforts to take care of them. Around 23% of any typical organization will be comfortable working solo, because those people enjoy showing their singular prowess. However, that grows increasingly less likely with your remaining work-force, where people would prefer collaborating with colleagues to give them encouragement and reinforcement.


While more selective recruiting to tap into that top 23% of performers may help, there’s only so far a growing organization can exploit such hiring strategies before it hits up against the realities of our population’s natural distribution curve. Besides, most other traditional organizations crave such a demographic, too. So what do you do?


Even though work-pairing can do valuable things even among your top 23% of solo performers as well, it will particularly help working wonders among the next 50% who will really value it. Whenever appropriate, by pairing people up with complementary personalities and naturally qualified colleagues, you will realize much greater performance and focus. A high percentage of people don’t particularly like working alone – we are a gregarious species after-all – so will naturally respond more favorably when paired with a competent colleague. Of course it makes sense to expose them to some sensible work-pairing guidelines, so as to help the arrangement work to everyone’s advantage.


One client has struggled for many years to find better ways of onboarding and retaining its frontline workplace people. By chance, it put together two talented young ladies, with a human-resource orientation, where almost overnight they developed proposals and an action initiative for making significant progress. Another client had been struggling with productivity issues within a unionized workforce. It proceeded to find a willing pair to research options, study other similar organization working environments, make proposals, and then implement a package of activities to make considerable progress.


This is all a far cry from the traditional project group, consisting of many diverse people around a table, to brainstorm, form committees, and then proceed as a group to put its proposals into action. That action is often pursued by solo individuals or sub-committees. It’s often a lottery as to how such arrangements produce results, relative to the advantages of utilizing work-pairing. In fact, if you wish to form such project groups, then you should subsequently break them down into pairs when looking for action. Once they have outlined their project framework and identified the key issues, pairs will then feel empowered to move ahead.


Having said all this, work-pairing at its best requires selecting optimum, complementary pairs. This can be done either

on an ad-hoc basis, where you allow people to choose those they wish to work with, or you can take a more interventionist approach. On occasions the ad hoc approach may work, with the caveat that many pairs may not make all the progress you had hoped for. Too often, in such situations, people may pick someone similar to themselves in a work environment; although less likely to do so when picking a life-long partner. Most successful life-long partnerships are where people choose someone complementary to themselves.


While picking someone similar to yourself in a work environment may generate good rapport, the pair may not progress too far with like-minded ideas. They may even become frustrated with each other as they find themselves somewhat spinning their wheels. Consequently, more deliberative and objective pair-choosing is likely to produce much better outcomes. Such pairing requires either rather objective thinking by group leaders or the support of an objective but constructive personality type survey. Either way, it’s better to have complementary pairing rather than like-oriented pairs.


We already see many examples of work-pairing around us in everyday life: pilot-pairs in cockpits, police patrols in pairs, ambulance crews work in pairs, military teams work in pairs, and so on. Clearly these are highly sensitive roles, but it does highlight the importance of pairs taking care of special assignments. One could reasonably argue that most organization activities worth doing would benefit from pairing; realizing that some roles are more important than others.


Even so, the benefits of pairing include – two heads are often better than one, the possibility to encourage each other, learning from each other, greater chance of meeting critical deadlines, holding each other to commitments, dual handling of timelines and pressures, hassle free vacation time, covering for each other in personal emergencies, higher overall effectiveness – go a long way toward offsetting perceived additional investments with such arrangements.


Beyond anything else, with the right pairing there’s likely to be better morale, more creativity and greater all round success.  Take a good hard look and you will find opportunities abound for work-pairing within your organization. You won’t regret it.


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