Cowen Cafe: 80/20 to 100/0 and the Value of a Swiss Army Knife

On Thursday, June 6, 2020, the Cowen Cafe convened for another Zoom meeting. About 50 participants congregated, coming mostly from corporate legal departments, law firms, industry associations, and providers.

Each week’s meeting has a theme to help foster and guide discussion. For this week’s meeting, sponsored by NightOwl Global and Integreon, the group set out to explore aptitudes and attitudes required for leaders to move their teams forward in these tumultuous times. We used the book Intangibles by Joan Ryan to guide the initial 30-minute exchange of ideas (members meet as a group of the whole before separating into breakout rooms for deeper dives into the topics discussed in the initial exchange).

In Intangibles, Ryan, a sports journalist, introduced seven archetype characters who emerge on nearly every team with good chemistry:

  • The Sage: The Obi-Wan Kenobi that might be on your team
  • The Kid: Like a puppy shaking off water
  • The Enforcer: Upholding the standards
  • The Buddy: everyone’s friend
  • The Warrior: So talented as to give everyone the swagger and confidence we need to win – as well as the one who knows how to win
  • The Jester: Fun, a connector, a tension-breaker
  • The Spark Plug: Making everyone better, jumpstarting the group

80/20 to 100/0

Unlike in some calls, during the initial group meeting, the breakout sessions, and the final group meeting, there were not any dramatic and pithy one-liners. Rather, all the discussions, group and separate, lacked the usual snappiness.

The discussion was more somber and contemplative than usual. On May 25, George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. That death, the ensuing peaceful protests, and the anything-but-peaceful looting combined with the impact of COVID-19 on our heath, our livelihoods, and the economy, shifted the focus of the discussion.

The general sense seemed to be that we have gone from 80/20 to 100/0. As the impact of the coronavirus lengthened and deepened, we seemed to have reached a point where 80% of us were having a hard time and only 20% of us were coping. With all that has happened since May 25, now we seem to have gone to 100/0. None of us is coping well; everyone is out of sync. As one person on the call said, in the last two weeks all of our structures, our archetypes, have been stressed and found wanting; the seem no longer to apply.

Where, then, does that take us?

The value of a Swiss Army Knife

It takes us back to the seven archetypes.

As one participant noted, we need to figure out how to work together. To do this, one group reported back from their breakout session, we need to recognized the importance of understanding where people are coming from rather than just putting them in buckets, we need to understand that not everyone fits into one bucket (or archetype), and we need to appreciate that different people can take on different roles depending on the situation.

For ourselves, participants commented, this can start with figuring out our own dominant archetypes. We can’t stop there; we also should hone our flexibility and adaptability, so that we can more into other archetypes as needs must. Whichever archetypes we adopt in the moment, it was noted, we need to lead with empathy.

As for team members, folks on the call arrived at several sets of thoughts:

  • The best employees fit multiple archetypes and can move between them nimbly.
  • Team members who get pigeonholed are inherently less effective. Recognize that everyone is multifaceted and build on that.
  • Employees in whom one archetype dominates over all others tend to be more destructive than productive. Be aware of that danger; at the same time, even those folks can have many facets to them.
  • These are strange times, where the enormous stress we are under may change our archetype. Our strongest people can morph into our weakest, our weakness shine as the strongest.
  • Because we have to go to work with the team we have (we can’t hire right now), we have to figure out how to build resiliency in the members of the team we’ve got. Part of this can be done trough awareness and efforts at building trust; part by trying to draw out the right archetypes at the right time.
  • The Jester has never been more important. We all need to relieve stress and tension and this is the person who helps us do that. Recognize that and rely on it.

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