I wrote a few posts ago about working successfully in teams, and identified a few significant challenges to getting something done effectively in teams. I want to return to that theme over the next few posts and explore some of the issues in more depth.
I've been warned that sports analogies are overused, but let's throw caution to the wind. A baseball team consists of people who have dramatically different skills and talents - from a home run hitting/weak throwing first baseman to a slick fielding yet singles hitting shortstop to a strikeout pitcher who can't hit his own weight. Bring all these individuals together with a great coach and common objectives and you can build a winning team.
In business we pull people from sales, from marketing, from manufacturing and from finance and stick them in a team and ask them to be productive. They generally have no coach and don't "practice" working as a team. For the most part, most business teams come together once, do something and then disband. These teams have no long term objectives except as individuals who hope to get something done and return to their "real" job.
Like a baseball team, each team member has incentives that may distract from the team's goals. A home run hitter may have incentives in his contract that encourages him to swing for the fences when a simple single will suffice. A financial manager on a team may have incentives or directions from his functional manager that make it difficult to help the team reach good decisions. Additionally, most individuals recognize that certain business functions have more sway. In technology firms, the people with the power are the design engineers. In pharma firms, they are the brand managers. Often, if the team includes a person from one of these areas, this person dictates the direction of the team.
What's the point? To make teams more effective, we've got to establish a set of operating principles.
- We need to practice working as teams. I know we can't just drop all of our "real" work, but if a baseball team can go to spring training for 3 months, certainly we can train people to work effectively in teams for a week or so a year
- We need to provide coaches for our teams. If a baseball team needs a hitting coach, a bench coach, a pitching coach and a head coach, why doesn't a business team need a teaming coach. Why not have a non-involved senior manager act as a coach to teams that are just getting started or who need an independent ear?
- We need to make sure teams have appropriate compensation. Don't allow personal incentives to get in the way of the right decision. Consider compensating the team based on the team's goals, rather than on their functional deparmentmental or individual goals.
- We need to balance the playing field. If all of the team members are there because they can add value to the discussion and decisions, then they all should have equal weight. If a team loads up on homerun hitters at the cost of good pitching (I'm talking about you, Texas Rangers), the team is unbalanced and will have a poor result. In a pharmaceutical firm, a heavy dose of brand managers will certainly have an impact on a team. Find the right balance and ensure no one person or function dominates the team.
If we put these foundational items in place, we can establish the baselines to help teams operate successfully. Then we need to provide the tools to help the team perform at an even higher level. But that's a post for another day.