How differences can make a perfect team
2016 U.S. Olympic Beach Volleyball Team
APRIL ROSS | KERRI WALSH JENNINGS
Walsh Jennings and Ross are the only duo comprised of two Olympians. Walsh Jennings, a three-time gold medalist with Misty May-Treanor, and Ross, a 2012 silver medalist with Jennifer Kessy. In the qualification period, the pair have four gold medals, two silver and two bronze and finished third in the 2016 Olympic rankings.
"The face of this journey is different, considering I have a new partner by my side, but the spirit of it is just as beautiful and humbling and as wonderful as ever," said Walsh Jennings. "Each Olympic cycle has been so unique and so full of the best things in life: love, personal growth, teamwork, friendship, dedication, acceptance, dream chasing, etc. This journey has been no exception and yet it's been full of its own magic. I am proud, I am grateful and we are very happily in it to win it… every single day."
- Team USA website, 2016
I met Kerri and April in Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles, in January. For me, it was a privilege and a totally joyful experience meeting these two incredible athletes and wonderful women. The meeting was orchestrated by their coach, Marcio Sicoli, who was determined we would make this happen, having completed the USOC Elite Coach Leadership Program, co-facilitated by People Academy. So determined, in fact, he went to great lengths to ensure the meeting took place, shoehorned into an insanely intense training schedule.
Kerri, along with her previous partner, Misty May-Treanor, has won Olympic Gold three times in succession and is a household name in the US. Unbelievably, Kerri will have her 39th birthday during the Olympics in Rio - she’s even contemplating Tokyo in 2020! Misty retired after London 2012.
Kerri and her new partner, April Ross, are very different people. In personality, they couldn’t be more different. And this could be a source of problems within a team.
Do the math on this: the amount of time athletes spend together in competition is probably less than 1%... the other 99% is spent together in training, travelling and living together. So, it’s mission critical that they can, and do, get along together - it’s not a nice-to-have. Their coach, Brazilian-born Marcio, saw the potential that this had for high performance as a unit, in training and competition, recognizing completely what was at stake here.
People who are very different from each other – complete opposites like Kerri and April – often fail to see the real potential in working together.
Think about it: we tend to be attracted to people with personality types that are similar to ourselves. We feel comfortable with them, easy in their company, on the same wavelength. With someone who’s a complete opposite, we find them at least a little ‘odd’, and they probably think the same of us. We’re puzzled or perplexed at how they behave, how they think. It goes much deeper if they reveal what motivates them, what their fears are, if you can get close enough to attempt to uncover their deeply held beliefs and values, which is usually unlikely because we tend to steer clear of them!
With people working in a team where such differences exist (and let’s face it, in how many teams is this not the case), there is often considerable untapped potential, because the differences result in people naturally maintaining a certain distance, a reserve, holding back on full engagement with each other.
How do you make a team of personality ‘misfits’ into a high performing team?
By sharing understanding of differences, both ways, and across the team
By a willingness throughout the team to talk openly about the differences
By everyone valuing and appreciating the differences, celebrating them even
By no one ever assuming “my view of the world is the right one, everyone else must be wrong”
Through this understanding, potential is released and the energy in the team is transformed. No more odd looks or whispers in corridors. No more repressed emotions. More engagement and healthy, open challenging of each other.
April and Kerri, and their coach, Marcio, got it. They could see that by Combining the very different characteristics and qualities that each of them has, they have the making of a perfect team, leaving nothing in short supply.
My best wishes to them all, for their future success and the ultimate prize, Gold at Rio.