Managing the Maverick

team workBeing a good team player is considered a positive characteristic by many managers. But many highly talented individuals often have “flaws” that make them “mavericks” when it comes to team work. How should the manager integrate such people into their team?

Tempting though it is to “get rid of” a maverick from the team, it’s unlikely to be the best response. What we need to do is to understand them and foster their best characteristics.

Mavericks are difficult because they will question established structures and rules, and this can have them labelled as troublemakers. However, this is an indictment on the team leader, not the maverick. Leaders who are unsure of their leadership are unable to cope with someone asking questions or challenging the way something’s done. Often the maverick simply wants to understand the context, as well as their role within the team, and it’s a poor leader that sees this as a threat!

Admittedly, mavericks are not always skilled at asking their questions or putting their views across in an assertive way. But it’s nearly always the reactions of the leader to the maverick that results in the situation degenerating. Poorly handled questions result in the maverick retreating - probably behind a veneer of pride and arrogance. These traits will not help them to integrate into the team.

However, with skillful leadership, this reaction is avoidable. Mavericks can integrate effectively into a team, though this is usually on their own terms. They aren’t being “prima donnas” (well, not always). They are struggling against their innate resistance of authority. The effective leader can help them by:

1) Explaining the bigger picture.
Mavericks are not good at obeying orders they do not fully understand. Ensure that your maverick has a strong understanding of the big-picture. Why is the team needed? Why is it organised the way it is? What is it ultimately working towards? And why are you the leader?

2) Develop team goals and strategy.
Mavericks need to buy into the team’s goals. This is more likely to happen if they can help to formulate them. Sometimes this is simply not possible (the team goals have been set by someone else), in this case involve them in agreeing the milestones and formulating the strategy.

3) Establish clear team roles.
Mavericks are far more likely to have interpersonal issues with those they work alongside. The more you can define specific tasks for your maverick to do the better.

4) Encourage creativity.
Mavericks tend to be good at creative “out of the box” thinking. So give them the most creative tasks to do within the team.

5) Delegating well.
Mavericks perform at their best when operating under the “One Minute Manager” approach (see book by Kenneth Blanchard). For the team leader this means developing a shared vision of the preferred outcome with your maverick and then leaving them alone to get on with it. Light control is the name of the game for the team leader managing a maverick.

Managing difficult people, such as mavericks is a key skill that managers need to master in order to build effective teams.