“That’s not going to work.” Every time my most experienced people said this, I cringed. I had a team with eight veterans and four rookies. I soon realized that our team’s experience was killing innovation.
Each time a veteran spoke, it hurt us or helped us. Experience kept us from moving forward into new territory. At times, experience helped us make wise decisions and other times it kept us from growing.
Sometimes having a team of rookies is fun, but dangerous. Sometimes having a team of veterans is comforting, but limiting. The key is how the leader manages those dynamics.
The Good Thing About Rookies
Rookies bring a fresh view to old issues. Rookies don’t know what has been tried before and are usually willing to push the envelope because they do not know where the envelope is.
The Bad Thing About Rookies
Rookies can also chase rabbits down paths that have proven to be lost causes. Their inexperience can cause them to waste time on things that keep them busy, but hurts their productivity.
The Good Thing About Veterans
Veterans provide the wisdom that can only come from experience. I define wisdom as knowledge applied. Wisdom often comes from doing the wrong things and learning from them. Without the advantage of experience, individuals and teams can waste time on strategies that someone else has already shown to be ineffective.
The Bad Thing About Veterans
Veterans may only look at new ideas through their own eyes. If something did not work for them in the past, they may believe that no one can make it work. The experience they bring and the confidence they have in their own experience, causes them and the team to stay rooted in the status quo.
Three Ways A Leader Should Manage Rookies
1. Expect Mistakes
As a leader, I wanted my rookies to make mistakes. I always told rookies, “If you are not making mistakes, you’re probably not learning. If an idea is not illegal or immoral, I want you to try it and learn.”
2. Expect Independence
I also encouraged rookies to get input from the veterans, but not to take a veteran’s word as the gospel. “Something might not have worked for the veteran. But you have a unique personality and approach. Try it. If it does not work, adapt!”
3. Expect Contributions
I never wanted a rookie to lose the excitement they brought to their new job. Empowering them to take calculated risks and share their successes and failures with the team made the team and made the rookie feel they were contributing quickly.
Three Ways A Leader Should Manage Veterans
1. Expect Mentoring
As a leader, I wanted my veterans to mentor the rookies but not slow them down. I spoke to my veterans each time a rookie joined the team and asked them to guide but not decide for the rookies.
Good open ended questions can often guide rookies to a better solution:
- What brought you to this conclusion?
- How would you make this happen?
- When will you know if it works or if it doesn’t?
2. Expect Solutions
I also repeated this phrase: “Look for reasons a new idea will work first instead of always finding the reasons it will not.” This is how innovation occurs. A good idea from a rookie can be made great when a veteran begins by looking for the opportunities in the idea instead of flaws.
3. Expect Restraint
Finally, I learned as a more experienced leader on a team of new leaders that I need to speak last. If I shared my concerns early on, I closed down most of the discussion because of the respect my experience afforded me.
The veterans have the respect of the rookies. But waiting until an idea is more fully explored allows good ideas to become great and bad ideas to fade, often without the veteran speaking at all.
The Bottom Line:
The wisdom of experience is crucial on a team. When an experienced team member speaks up, the leader should listen and respect that experience. But the leader should also be wary.
The innovative ideas of rookies are also invaluable. Their fresh perspectives can often push a team out of a rut if the veterans and the leader allows their ideas to develop through mentoring and/or trial and error.
The way veterans have always done things may be tried and true, but they also may be limiting the productivity of the team. The wacky new ideas of the rookies may cause distractions and also limit the team’s productivity.
It is the leader’s job to manage both the innovation of the rookies and the experience of the veterans to insure the team is consistently moving forward with the best ideas and implementing them in the wisest way.
If the leader does not actively manage these dynamics, the experience of the veterans will often overpower the excitement of the rookies. When this happens, innovation dies and the rookies soon lose their passion.
When have you seen an old idea reimagined by someone new, succeed?