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When Teammates Collide


Forward-focused teammates clash with foot-draggers.  But, foot-draggers aren’t the problem.

My approach to an opportunity is grab it and go. Planning isn’t high on my list. I know it’s important but can’t we plan as we go. “Just do something” is my motto. Build the airplane in the air.

“Just do something people” drive planners crazy. But “just do something” isn’t the problem.


A planner on my team sent me an e-mail that included, “I don’t want to frustrate you.” I was pushing for a next step. He was explaining why we can’t move forward, at this time.

Every team experiences collisions between team members pushing for the next thing and those reluctant to move forward.

*Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins explain motivational collisions in their new book, “Focus.” They explain how some tend to promote and others prevent.

Promoters play to win.
Preventers play not to lose.

Preventors prefer to say, “No! to an opportunity, rather than end up in hot water.” Halvorson and Higgins.

Over the years, I’ve seen the weakness of my promoter-focus. I don’t protect gains. Mistakes are no big deal. Planning takes too long. I’m willing to lose what I have – to gain what I don’t.

Promoters tend toward big ideas.
Preventers are great with details.


“For a promotion-focused person, what’s really “bad” is a nongain: a chance not taken, a reward unearned, a failure to advance… But for the prevention-focused, the ultimate “bad” is a loss you failed to stop; a mistake made, a punishment received, a danger you failed to avoid.”


Everyone, according to Halvorson and Higgins, has both motivations and, depending on the context, brings them out. The planner, I mentioned, who didn’t want to frustrate me is a fire-ball-promoter once he sees a path to success, for example.

How might leaders navigate tensions between promoters and preventors?

*Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins lead the Motivational Science Center at Columbia Business School.

Bonus material: Heidi Grant Halvorson in her own words on characteristics of promotion and prevention focus. (4:17)

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