Tigers, Elephants & Hippos: Managing the Jungle in Your Office

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Team is critical to every organization. How you build your team will make all the difference in whether you ultimately succeed or fail. For the entrepreneur, the purpose of the team is to execute the vision. The team players bring their gifting to the table to accomplish the goals; but, the picture is held by the visionary.

Decades ago, I was trained on a very useful construct for looking at your team. In every organization, your team members can effectively be broken into three groups of people: tigers, elephants and hippos. Each represents a different type of person. Each team member needs a different approach to management and job execution.


Tigers are your “A” players. They are always on point. Always working toward the greater picture. They tend to be self-sacrificing, work longer hours and press forward. When times are tough, they put their head down and drive harder. In a group setting they are always enthusiastic and pulling the group into the problem solving. Rarely arriving without suggested solutions, they are always open to adjusting their ideas or plans to meet the corporate objective.


Hippos are your “C” players. They are the opposite of tigers and sometimes can look like tigers. Hippos are always pulling the team off point. It may not be intentional and may be in the name of a corporate objective. Somehow, however, they are always taking an opposite position. They’ll use terms like, “Not to be negative…” or “Just to be the devil’s advocate…” In group settings, they tend to either knock leadership or pull the team off of the plan. Sometimes, they intentionally drive wedges between team players for the sake of being the confidant. In rare occasions, they can look like tigers by being enthusiastic about the broad vision but energetically and routinely proposing an alternative path to get there. They look like tigers because they look like a visionary; but, they are pulling people to their own vision instead of the stated one.


Elephants are your “B” players. They can either go with Tigers or Hippos. They will be pulled by their tail or their trunk depending on who they are around at the time. They are easily swayed and tend to be followers. They are deceivingly dangerous. They will work to the strength and capacity of the lowest common denominator. Meaning, if everyone around them is a hard worker, they will work hard; however, if they are around Hippos, they will only quickly add to the level of a lack of productivity.

Now that we understand who we have, what do we do about it? Here is a simple process to help you better manage your team:


    1. Rate Your Team: Objectively look at your team. Give them each a 1- 5 score with 5 being a high score. Hippos will score a 1-2, elephants a 3 and tigers a 4-5. It is always important to stand in truth regarding your team. This method should help you take the emotionality and partiality of relationships out of the equation.


    1. Notify Your Tigers: Let the tigers know what you appreciate about them. Give them more responsibility leash. Stretch them to grow professionally and tell them that it is a reward for their solid performance. Ask them what strengths and weaknesses they see in other employees. They can safely be your eyes and ears into those group settings when you are not present. They will be full of great information.


    1. Coach Your Elephants: Let them know what you see. “Sometimes I think you’re on the rock star path and other times you seem to be becoming a black hole.” Ask them why that is. Give them some points of correction. Then, be bold. Tell them that they would be better off if they observed the behavior of and followed in the steps of one of your Tigers. Let them know the black hole behavior cannot last forever and you want to see movement towards being a solid performer. Eventually, if they cannot make the grade, they become someone you will manage out of the organization.


    1. Kill The Hippos: Hippos are dead weight. Do not be fooled into believing they can be won over. They may either soiled by past experiences or they really have their own thing that they want to accomplish. Again, some will look like tigers, so you must be discerning. Are they really moving you towards your goals? In the case of the hippo, you must manage them out of the organization.


    1. Build the Team: As you make team adjustments, continually remember to point out publicly behaviors that are fostering growth and positive ethos. Also, publicly cite behaviors and conversations that are dragging the organization down. Constantly invite participation into the broader context, encouraging the strong players.


Ultimately, your team is the foundation on which you will build success. Your job is to make it as solid as possible.

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On January 17, 2022

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