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  • kmcgourty2

Is your NPD Team Cathedral Builders or Bricklayers?

I have always liked the story of the three bricklayers and how it applies to new product development teams. The story goes something like this:

Once there were 3 bricklayers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing. The first man answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second man replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’ But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral.'” – Author Unknow

So what’s the point of this story? Is it that a team full of cathedral builders is far superior to a team full of bricklayers?

Well yes, with all things equal in terms of skills and experience, it’s pretty obvious a team inspired by a “vision” (a.k.a. the cathedral) will have a better chance of creating innovative new products and dealing with development challenges synonymous with breakthrough new products

Several times over my career, I have had the luxury of fielding development teams from scratch. I always gravitate toward team members with great attitudes and the desire to be part of something bigger – like building a cathedral versus brick walls. Yes, their core skill sets were important but I will opt for a person with good skills and a great attitude over a person with a great skills but a poor attitude any day

But we don’t live in a perfect world, and we can’t always choose who will be on our team, nor how individual team members will evolve as the development effort unfolds.

There will always be members on our team, especially our extended team, who are very task oriented. They will do a good job for us but that’s as far as they typically want to go – or for that matter, emotionally can go. Not everyone wants to be a cathedral builder, some are happy being bricklayers and making a good wage doing good day of honest work.

So the question is can we provide sufficient inspiration to the task oriented bricklayer to do their part as a team member in achieving our vision or is it a waste of time? Of course we can. It starts with providing all team members with a clear vision of what victory looks like. Even bricklayers will respond to a strong vision and aspire to do their best.

Then we need to know who the bricklayers are (hopefully on your extended team and not core team) and provide the bricklayers with sufficient direction as to what their task are and what is expected of them. They will appreciate clarity and will contribute to the team as best they can laying bricks per the specifications they are given.

But even bricklayers need to have good attitudes. Bad attitudes are bad company. As a leader, it is your responsibly to set a clear direction for a team to aspire to. As the manager, it’s your responsibility to manage human and business resources both on the core and extend teams in achieving your objectives

As the leader, you are responsibility to field a winning team top to bottom. If after exhaustive communication and instruction, you find your bricklayer, and for that matter your star cathedral builder, isn’t getting the job done   – it’s time to find a new player

If you want to build a cathedral, you need a clear vision of what that cathedral will look like in the end and attract cathedral builders to manifest the vision. Without a vision, all you will be doing is laying bricks. That might be okay if your role is to be bricklayer – but not if you are expected to lead others to success

I’ll leave you with this final quote from Joel Barker that sums up vision nicely

Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

Start with a vision that articulates a clear view of what victory looks like and lead your team to success by giving them direction to take the right actions.


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