When I came home from work today, my 6-year-old son had a friend over and they were making planes out of LEGOs, or as he calls it “Building LEGOs.” By the look on my son’s face, it was clear that something was up and that he was not having the best of times. When his friend excused himself to go to the bathroom, my wife asked our son whether he wanted his friend to go home. The response made perfect sense to all three of us: “Mom, I don’t really like him but I don’t want him to go home. I don’t want to play by myself and he is pretty good at LEGOs.” I was pleased with the response, as over the years I have come to understand that position all too well.

In the workplace, how many times do we find ourselves working with people we don’t necessarily like being around? We put up with certain people because we need some help in general or because they provide specific expertise that we might not have. I know I am not alone when I admit to having been in such a situation, whether it was a lab partner in high school, a friend who was more mechanically inclined, or someone who was willing to provide a ride to a destination of choice. We have all been there at one point or another. It is part of being a friend, a shipmate or just co-existing on this planet. We make the most of the interaction, complete the task at hand, and move on. (And yes, I will admit there is a good chance I have been “That Guy” and not just put up with “That Guy.”)

A much more challenging situation to deal with is that of “Building LEGOs” with someone whom you truly like but who unintentionally and repeatedly disassembles the creations you’ve made by yourself or with other teammates. How do you let that person know that his actions are setting the team back or resulting in creations that are not all that useful? (I know, how is any LEGO creation useful? It’s an analogy, stay with me!) I see people react to such situations in different ways.

  1. Some choose to continually fix the creation after the colleague leaves;
  2. Some choose to talk about the personal shortfalls with other colleagues as a means of amusement; and
  3. Some choose to help that colleague address his shortcomings and help him overcome whatever issues are causing the destructive “contributions.”

I must admit that I have reacted in all three of these manners in both my personal and professional lives and though I have ultimately connected the dots and migrated towards #3, I still am guilty of #1 more than I should be. If my hope is for those to address my many shortcomings through constructive mentorship, why shouldn’t everyone be given the same courtesy?

  • Are we helping our teammates to increase their contributions?
  • Are we receptive to others providing us with constructive feedback?
  • Is there ever a place for poking fun at someone for their shortcomings?

With that, let’s start “Building LEGOs” and helping others hone their skills as we work together to create value.