Homage to the unbreakables

This is the twelfth part of a 12-part series featuring snippets from our new book, Team by Team. The only team building book ever written by the actual team. You can buy the ebook here.

Articles in this series:

  1. Selfishness: The Key to Teamwork
  2. Failing Forwards
  3. Stretch vs Support 
  4. Teeming with Teams
  5. The Honey Badger
  6. Say What You Mean
  7. Meditation over Mediation
  8. People over Positions
  9. Comments over Likes
  10. Growth: Cohesion not Expansion
  11. Please give (work) generously

Working with Chris Lissaman is particularly annoying in some ways. When we hired Chris at Interactive Workshops we saw great potential. But in his first few weeks he was a bit quiet, slightly geeky, somehow private. Settling in. However, underneath all that Chris is a monster. Chris was just getting himself comfortable. We jointly decided as a team, that our job was to try to break Chris. We would, as an organisation, attempt to pile so much responsibility, growth, stretch and volume on this guy that he would, like a wrestler in a chokehold, start beating the mat begging us to quit.

The genesis of this game is that Chris is an Unbreakable. Maybe it’s his cool demeanour. Maybe it’s his faith or value-driven approach. It could be his tidy, organised manner, easy smile. It surely can’t be his wonderful hair? Let the games begin. Two weeks after Chris joined as a graphic designer, he moved into management running the Studio at Interactive Workshops. The following week he embarked upon our biggest ever design project. Chris didn’t flinch. So we doubled the amount of work going into his team. Nothing changed. OK. Here Chris.
Why don’t you also run Ops? Still Chris is exactly the same as Chris always was. How about you also run HR? All our contracts? All our suppliers? All our resourcing? The software for our workflow. All our marketing…  I mean COME ON CHRIS. PLEASE… SHOW SOME SIGNS OF PRESSURE!

Occasionally Chris will work a later evening to finish off some strategic adjustment with a new piece of software or ensure a marketing mail gets out on time. Are you ok Chris? “Yeah… I’m enjoying this.” But generally around 17.30 with a cheery face and the words “late working is not sustainable” he pops his graphics tablet on charge, clears up a few coffee cups, and saunters off home, looking as fresh as the minute he walked in.

People like Chris put the rest of us in the shade. Why are we emotional, stressed, behind? Why do we need to “talk it through” with our managers, partners or pets? Why oh why is it that Nathan, or Rosie, or Conkey are entirely unbreakable, but people like me, or Johnny, or Emily can, at times, find ourselves teetering on the brink?

Who knows? We could do the psychometric to find out. Or just say this.  Every team needs at least one Chris Lissaman, and any team with a few is well on the way to extraordinary levels of performance and resilience. Imagine if a team collected a considerable proportion
of Chris Lissamans?

With stable, capable, unflappable people, the temperature disappears out of hotspots. Conflict is averted. Crisis disappears. Chris once said, “I like solving problems.” And he really does. He is also an excellent and fast delegator, agile, able to prioritise and reprioritise. Good with his team. Strategic in finding more resources early when a bulge of work volume is anticipated. Stable in his communication and level in giving feedback. Quick to adopt new cultural norms or create them. Solid in leading. Capable in following. And for someone this talented, humble. iw


An entire team of Chris Lissamans won’t work. Our theory is a 1:1 mix of Chris’s to Em’s is the perfect blend.