Designing A Winning Team

What makes a good team? I have been pondering this all morning after reading a great article by Rich Karigaard and Michael Malone. Their article was about various political leaders who have developed great teams while have accomplishing great expectations. It is my opinion that the team made these leaders great, not the person themselves.

One example they give of a good team involves Abraham Lincoln. They use Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “A Team of Rivals”, to show how a diverse team can actually be led to accomplish great things. Two other examples the authors mention are Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton current presidential candidates. Bush has amassed a team of superstars, “some of the best names in the campaign business.” While Clinton, “has pulled together staff based primarily on their compatibility and loyalty to her.” In both of these examples one can see future failure. Meredith Belbin did a great deal of research on Apollo Teams, or teams made up with PhDs, the so-called smartest people in the room. He found these team fail the majority of the time. So in the Jeb Bush scenario we have an Apollo Team. The only way that will be successful is if the very smart team members can actually work together and not think the other team members are stupid. It will be interesting to watch.

However, just as bad is putting together a team of sycophants. For a team to be successful, you need people who trust one another while telling the truth. Sycophants won’t do that, especially if the leader is insecure needing constant reinforcement.

So what does it take to have a successful team? First, you need to have the right amount of people. In the class book, “The Wisdom of Teams,” Katzenbach and Smith describe six team basics. The first critical element is to have a small number of people. The number they mention is three to twelve. Any more than that you are going to have a highly inefficient group. According to Karigaard and Malone, “There is, in fact, a mathematical argument against” large teams. “Every new node in a network adds many more potential connections. Thus, with a team of four has just six interconnections, a team of 16 has 120 interconnections.” Much more complicated.

Another important team basic is having team members who have complimentary skills. “In other words, recruit for maximum diversity.” This does not mean finding people who look differently, it means finding people that think differently and can compliment others on the team. “Bill Clinton’s 1992, war room, with its crazy quilt of personalities such as James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, and Paul Begala, is a defining example.” There are many roles that people play on teams, so making sure that you have the right people on the team is critical.

Another important part of creating a strong team is shared leadership. Teams don’t need a strong leader that drives the team. They need a skilled facilitator who can help guide the people. ”Great teams need an active manager to hold them together” while moving in a productive direction. The manager can make sure the right people are on the team.

While the team gets into the minutia, they must never lose sight of the big picture. Teams need to understand what they have been put in place to accomplish, and they must work on a common understanding of what that goal is. They must then work to create a common definition of the goal and how they are going to work to accomplish the goal.

Teams can be an incredible waste of time or they can be highly productive. Most of the time upper management does not allow the team the time needed to be successful. Upper management also does not give the team the training they need to be successful. They will assign a certain number to the project, call them a team, and expect high performance. Instead they get horrible results.

Teams can work really well, and a few will make it to the high performing category, however, most teams languish in mediocrity.

And that is my thought for the day!


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