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Mavericks – the essential disruptors

Mavericks – the essential disruptors for team performance. A lot of my work in the past decade has been in coaching and developing teams, and leaders of teams. One of the things I have learned along the way is:

Mavericks disrupt teams. And that’s essential for team performance.

What do I mean by this? What essential role can mavericks – “wilfully independent people ” [1] – possibly serve in a team setting, when teams are surely about interdependence, not independence?

The literature on team performance identifies many important factors. For example, Meredith Belbin’s research on Team Roles [2] highlighted the importance of having a range of individuals in teams who cover a spread of identifiable behavioural patterns – such as the ideas-generating Plant and the detail-checking Completer Finisher. Belbin and his colleagues demonstrated that a team that misses even one of these team roles is, in the medium to long term, going to dip in performance. This is one of the reasons why diversity in teams is so beneficial – people with different backgrounds, experiences and behaviours contribute a range of essential ingredients to the team recipe.

Adding to this, Rackham and Morgan’s research [3] on interactive behaviours explained how inclusive behaviours (such as bringing others into the discussion) enhance collaboration and effective decision-making within teams, while others (such as over-advocacy or talking over others) get in the way. Edgar Schein describes the simple power of these behaviours in his excellent book, “Humble Inquiry” [4].

Awareness and use of team roles and inclusive behaviours are necessary to, in the words of international organisational consultants Max Isaac and Anton McBurnie, “close interaction gaps” within teams [5]. They reduce friction, access more of the information available within the team and facilitate collective decision-making and effective use of the team’s resources.

A Maverick example

Under its new leadership, the Information Systems team is looking forward to tackling the significant challenges that the business has asked it to take on. Jane, the newly appointed CIO, is good at bringing the individual talents she has inherited into play and getting the best out of each individual. One of her preferred Belbin team roles, Co-ordinator, comes to the fore as she shares out the work of the team around its members and facilitates a group discussion about how they are going to work together to deliver what the organisation is asking.

A Socialised Maverick [1], Jane also relishes the prospect of provoking significant change. She is happy to be in a position to push her very experienced colleagues out of their comfort zone and expects to see the team members grow in confidence and ability. The next few months, she thinks to herself, are going to be fun!

Alongside the factors of diversity and effective interaction, we recognise that teams go through distinct stages of development, as identified a generation ago by Tuckman and his colleagues in a seminal study for the US Navy [6]: forming, storming, norming, performing and, eventually, adjourning. Different components of team performance come into play at each of these stages. [7] For example, newly formed teams benefit particularly from establishing clarity around a common purpose and mission, as well as establishing initial ground rules for working together.

As team members become familiar with each other and team norms become established, there is a risk of things becoming over-polite. “Group think” may emerge. At this stage in team development, managers need to increase the level of challenge, or performance may slip. But this can be hard to do, as one of the thing team members may fear most is disrupting the cohesion that they have worked so hard to achieve.

What is needed for team performance?

It is at this stage that the mavericks in the team become essential. Because they are intrinsically goal-oriented and unafraid to challenge, mavericks are not happy to settle for a cosy consensus. They will push for better productivity, greater impact and for the team to realise the ambitions it was created to achieve in the first place. They provide a form of internal leadership [8] that is necessary to shift the performance of the team into the most productive, performing, phase of its development.

The team is in its weekly meeting and having a good time. Someone cracks a joke. Jane laughs and thinks to herself, this team is really coming together. We are all so comfortable with each other now.

Gently, Romesh, her Head of Service Delivery (and also a Socialised Maverick), reminds the team that the first significant milestone in the technology transformation plan is coming up in only three weeks, and that there are critical tasks that are running late. What’s more, there is pressure from the Board to start the next phase of the project sooner. “It’s great that we’re all working together so well,” he says, “and we need to get these things back on track, or we’re going to let the rest of the business down. I know for a fact that there are a couple of people in my area who are struggling with how much they have on their plate, and that’s just one of the things that are putting the delivery date at risk.”

“Good point,” says Jane, “this is not just a problem for Romesh, it’s something we need to fix as a team, as we have all committed to these dates. What else do we need to sort out, and what suggestions do we have around the table for how to achieve what we promised as a team?”

As in the example of Romesh, a maverick does not have to be the formal leader of the team to disrupt in the interests of better results, and won’t wait to be asked. If things are not working as well as they should, and the right questions are not being asked (or answered), then they show leadership within the team and will challenge everyone – including their manager – to ensure that the team achieves what it is capable of achieving.

Each maverick will disrupt in his or her own way, according to his or her personal styles or preferred team roles: but all mavericks will disrupt teams that need to be disrupted, in order to move things on, and that is essential for teams to move from average or good-enough to achieve truly excellent performance.


[1] Germain, J. (2017): “The Maverick Paradox: The Secret Power Behind Successful Leaders”, PublishNation
[2] Belbin, R.M. (2004): “Management Teams”, 2nd edition, Elsevier
[3] Rackham, N. & Morgan, T. (1978): “Behavioural Analysis in Training”, McGraw Hill
[4] Schein, E.H. (2013): “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling”, Berrett-Koehler
[5] Isaac, M. & McBurnie, A. (2015): “Close the Interaction Gap”, Bridge Publishing
[6] Tuckman, B.W. & Jensen, M.A. (1977): “Stages of small group development revisited”, Group Org. Studies 2:419 27.
[7] Ballin, P.F. (2017): “Releasing the Power of Teams”, https://www.mileone.co.uk/single-post/2017/07/11/Releasing-the-Power-of-Teams
[8] Wallis, G.P. (2019): “Internal Leadership as Success”, podcast interview with the author, https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/internal-leadership-as-success/id1445138161?i=1000453567382

Patrick Ballin
Patrick Ballinhttps://www.mileone.co.uk
Patrick Ballin is a socialised maverick in conformist clothing. He works as an executive, team and career coach with charity and private sector clients throughout Europe as well as North America, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. He completed advanced coaching training at Ashridge Business School, spent 10 years as a visiting lecturer at Brighton Business School and was awarded a National HEA Teaching Fellowship in 2018. Patrick has led accreditation programmes for Belbin Associates in the UK and North America, is a Fellow of the RSA and holds an MA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Before starting his coaching practice, Patrick worked in managerial positions in the personal computer industry and went on to become Global Head of Supply Chain and Logistics Development at The Body Shop International plc. He is a Trustee for the prisoner befriending charity LifeLines, a past Trustee of The Body Shop Foundation and a pro bono coach for On Purpose.

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