Why Balance Is Bad

balance (noun) a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

One of the most frequently raised concerns in my team building workshops is balance. The concern typically comes either in the form of an observation or question:

  • It appears that we’re pretty well (or not very) balanced.
  • Should we try to be more balanced?

Generally what prompts the observation or question is seeing data about the personality attributes or work styles within the team. And what is being inferred is that a relatively equal amount, i.e. balance of these attributes or styles within the team is better than not being balanced.

This is fundamentally the wrong way to look at balance.

At its core, balance is about power. It’s about making sure that one “side” or another doesn’t gain an advantage such that one set of traits, styles, perspectives, ideologies, etc. will always win out. When there is an imbalance of power, there is always the potential to use domination, threats or coercion to resolve differences. Or the more powerful side can seek input from the minority but still follow the majority path of least resistance, leaving the other side feeling frustrated, minimized and wondering what role they have to play. Again, the presumed goal of balance is to prevent such problems in the team.

On the other hand, rather than set a goal of balance so that nobody can use power over others on the team, a much more desired goal should be to share power with others on the team.

share (verb) have a portion of (something) with another or others; use, occupy, or enjoy  (something) jointly with another or others.

Notice the difference between the two concepts especially as it relates to teamwork. Balance is concerned with equality and proportionality – who has more and who has less power. The image that comes to mind is a scale. The only way to get equality is to add or subtract from one side at the expense of the other. And as it relates to teams, we know that when it comes to power and influence, people rarely accept having less.

As opposed to balance, sharing is concerned with having access to what all the other sides have. It’s about integrating power so that every team member can make a  contribution. This image of a set of gears is a perfect metaphor for the sharing of power. Notice first of all that the gears are not equal in terms of size or in their proximity to each other. But it’s also clear that each gear contributes to the movement of all the gears, irrespective of balance/proportionality. The gears smallest in size and those with the fewest connections still share power with the other larger/more connected gears.

Numerous surveys show that two of the biggest challenges organizations face is lack of sharing information across silos and lack of alignment. Balancing power within and among teams does not solve those problems.

Like the metaphor of each gear sharing power with the other gears, successful teams tend to have a mindset of sharing what they have in terms of their styles, personality traits, perspectives and so on.

As a team or as a leader, is your concern about gaining or maintaining balance, in other words power over others? Or are you more correctly focused on how to share power with others?

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