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Hiring the right people for the right job is critical for great teambuilding. And teambuilding is one of those crucial tasks leaders must continually get right. Unfortunately, they don’t always do, and the outcomes can be costly… financially, strategically and relationally.

A parable entitled A Rabbit on the Swim Team written by Charles R. Swindoll sheds light on mistakes that leaders make when assigning the wrong individuals to a specific task. In it, Swindoll tells the tale of a group of animals asked to perform tasks to which they are not physically well-suited. The duck is taken from the pool only to perform poorly as a runner. A squirrel, an adept climber, is taken from the trees and instructed to fly. And a rabbit, a gifted sprinter, sputters in its attempts to swim in the pool.

Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he only made passing grades in flying and was very poor in swimming. This caused his webbed feet to be badly worn, so that he was only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so no body worried about that – except the duck.

The rabbit started on the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. He developed “charlie horses” from over exertion and so only got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being non-conformist. In climbing class he beat all the others for getting to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there…

The obvious moral of the story is a simple one. Each creature has its own set of capabilities in which it will naturally excel – unless it is expected or forced to fit a mold that doesn’t fit. When that happens, frustration, discouragement and even guilt bring overall mediocrity or even complete defeat.

A duck is a duck – and only a duck. It is built to swim, not to run or fly and certainly not to climb. A squirrel is a squirrel – and only that. To move it out of its forte – climbing – and then expect it to swim or fly will only drive a squirrel nuts. Eagles are beautiful creatures in the air but not in a foot race. The rabbit will win every time unless of course the eagle gets hungry.

What is true of creatures in the forest is true of Christians in the family; both the family of believers and the family under your roof. God has not made us all the same. He never intended to. It was He who planned and designed the differences, unique capabilities and variations to the Body. So concerned was He that we realized this that he spelled it out several times in His final will and testament.

The take-home message in this parable is simple: Leaders will fail in their attempts to make all people into all things. It is utter folly to expect consistent high performance from someone removed from excelling in one area, and relocated to another to which they are not well-suited. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, skills and preferences, likes and dislikes. It becomes the responsibility of leaders to know the difference and to place people into positions with the greatest chance of success, for both the individual AND the company.

Beware The Pitfalls of “Cross-Training”

Although it sounds preposterous to switch the roles of a sales person and an accountant and expect them to flourish, these kinds of decisions are made to varying degrees in business on a regular basis. This kind of thinking is referred to as “cross-training,” and it can be an alienating experience that often ends negatively.

“The Peter Principle”

In the book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull argue that managers who promote individuals from the roles in which they are performing well, risk filling those roles with incompetent people. What management must do instead is enlist individuals with demonstrated skill sets for the job in question.

Rarely are the “team builders” held accountable for their failures. Instead of getting a misplaced employee back on track, managers give them poor reviews and/or “make them available for industry!” According to the Peter Principle, blame falls tragically on the employee. Ultimately, when someone fails after having been placed into an unsuitable position, the problem lies with the person who put them there in the first place.

Too often leaders try to force a person into a position that is not right for them because it seems easier. What they should be doing is going into the market to find the person who fits the role. It is the role that determines the need, not the person. Too often, we fail to devote the necessary time, energy, budget, and strategic planning required in building our teams. Use the tools available, through interviews, references, assessments and so on, so that we have the right people in the right places.

Too many times we approach teamwork with guessing and hoping, and as we know, hope is not a strategy. If you want to run races, go get yourself a rabbit. If you want someone to climb trees, go find yourself a squirrel. If you put the duck in the tree, it is just not going to work well. As long as we insist on placing people into positions that are unsuitable, we will either end up with failure, or success at a very high cost.