Tasting Scottish Whiskey: What It Means for Your Team


Scotland is known for fine woolens, shortbread, the heather-covered moors and single malt Scottish whisky.  I’m not a single malt whisky drinker but as a visitor to Scotland for ten days, I decided to try two per day. Here’s what I discovered about tasting my way through Scotland and why it’s relevant to your team.

  • Each whisky is the result of its environment. I tasted whisky from the islands (Skye, Jura, etc.), from the Highlands and from Speyside regions.  The flavors were as different as the topography and environment. For example, ingredients for whisky from Skye are heated with peat which gives the distinctive smoky flavor like drinking a camp fire.  The severe cold in the Highlands impacts the flavor intensity. Additionally, the flavor varied by age from the 10, 15, and 25-year-old varieties. And so it is with your team. Each team member is a product of his/her environment –strengths, skills, and stressors are colored and formed from individual history, experience and environment. How aware are you of team members’ background and experiences? Are you accounting for that natural behavior when pairing skills with tasks – just as one would choose whisky appropriate for the meal.
  • Small dilutions made a big difference. It was quickly evident that some whisky was smooth and soft to drink; others were like drinking a razorblade. Staff at the Dalwhinnie distillery explained that a single drop of water could make an otherwise edgy whisky into a smooth-drinking dram. A single drop of water? Sure enough…one or two drops swirled into the glass changed the nature of the whisky and calmed the edginess. It’s not so different with your team. Each of us brings our own uniqueness in the form of skills and behaviors. Those skills and behaviors bring their own type of edginess. Good teaming requires that each person recognize when their behavior gets in the way. We can develop the skill to dilute our behavior just a tad and make a big difference in teaming abilities. For example, someone with a strong personality who learns to rein in their outspoken approach just a wee bit becomes a more welcome team member.  A person inclined to extensive collaboration who delays decisions can benefit from diluting that behavior so that he/she pushes themselves to a decision sooner.

The next time you work with your team, pause a moment to consider Scottish whisky.  How are your team members unique?  Are you able to appreciate them by understanding the environment that has shaped them? How can you coach them so that they learn to dilute pronounced behavior a drop? Even the smallest change can make a big impact for your team.

For me, the interesting part of tasting Scottish whisky was appreciating the differences. It’s the same for your team.  Appreciate the differences and use them for a stronger team.


Photo Copyright: karandaev / 123RF Stock Photo

Shelley Row
Shelley Row works with forward-thinking managers and leaders who must make fast, insightful decisions in the face of uncertainty and rapid change. Shelley’s original research through 77 executive interviews revealed the secret to effective decision-making: Use information and intuition. That research is validated through neuroscience. But Shelley’s work is grounded in more than just her research. Her life experiences taught her to think, feel, and act…and it made all the difference.