Sunday, August 22, 2010



From where I sit see that managing teams represents an increasingly critical piece of today’s management puzzle. Due to advances in technology and the move towards globalization, I see new managers struggling to handle roles involving increasing complexity and interdependence. For example, running a multifunctional team of thirty people with varied levels of experience in a start-up can now be someone’s first managerial job. As horizontal networks and interfunctional teams take their place alongside or even replace functional and hierarchical organizational structures, managers and find themselves managing interdependent, diverse, and possible virtual or cross cultural teams of talented colleagues.

Were I collecting data from new managers today, I think I would hear a great deal about teams, probably with some significant tone of frustration. Out of necessity, many managers have begun to look for more strategic and operational assistance and for broader participation in organizational leadership. They have begun to empower others and place decision-making authority in the hands of those with task-relevant information and expertise: when every customer demands special service, those close to the customer need to have the power to provide it. They have shifted from dealing with problems on a one-on-one basis to solving problems collectively, involving everyone who has a contribution to make in addressing a challenge or implementing actions. Hence, the capacity to employ collaborative effort-coordination across individuals, activities, or functions so that the performance of the whole is greater than the sum of parts-has become crucial. Without teamwork it is virtually, impossible to make and implement high-quality decisions. Yet, as we heard from many of the managers in my study and in my work since completing the book, learning how to build effective teams can be one of the toughest managerial skills to acquire.

Managing one-on-one is not the same as managing the team:
One of the manager’s most important and challenging tasks is, find a way to ensure that the team’s collective work is greater than the sum of each individual member’s contribution. However, as we have seen, many news managers think of their teams as “teams” in name only. For much of their first year on the many new managers fail to recognize, much less address, their team-building responsibilities. Instead, they conceive of their people-management role as building the most effective relationships they can with each individual subordinate, and erroneously equate managing the team with managing the individuals. Consequently, they focus primarily on managing individual performance and pay little or no attention to team performance. New managers spend much of their time with selected numbers of subordinates and relatively little time with the subordinates. They rarely rely on group-based forums for problem solving and diagnosis. Even many issues with teamwide implications are handled largely one-on-one. Not surprisingly, many new managers find themselves making decisions based on limited information and are often surprised to learn that actions directed at one subordinate have an unintended negative impact on the morale or performance of others. To move from managing many individual subordinates to managing those subordinates as a team, new managers need to build a basic understanding of an effective team is, and the dynamics involved in designing the team and facilitating its processes. Building this foundation of team understanding is critical to managing the inherent paradoxes of teams, so I will provide a brief but thorough sketch of the building blocks of team management.

There are two sets of responsibilities associated with managing a team managing the team’s context and managing the team itself. Managing the team’s context refers to the discussion of managing interdependences. Managers who effectively identify interdependencies and build key relationships are, in effect, crating a contest conducive to team effectiveness. It could be argued that designing and facilitating an effective team has become the sine qua non of management. As will become apparen’t in our discussion, the philosophy of management has evolved from one of control to one of commitment and empowerment in which the manager becomes the architect and coach of an effective team culture.

What is an effective team ?

It is no simple feat to harness the energies of diverse individuals to create coordinated action. Several ingredients need to be in place for a team to work effectively. But before outlining those elements, we need to define just what we mean by an effective team. This definition is often where the confusion begins. Managers should apply three interrelated criteria in assessing overall team effectiveness:

01. The team performs. The team’s output (decisions, products, services) should meet the standards of those who have to use it. It is not enough that the team itself is pleased with its output or even that the output meets some objective performance measure. After all, the various constituencies relying on the team’s output may focus on different performance standards” (quality, profitability, innovation)
02. Individual team members are satisfied and learn. Some teams operate in ways that frustrate the personal satisfaction of team members and thwart their development. Other teams provide their members with multiple opportunities to satisfy their individual needs and to continually stretch and develop.
03. The team adapts and learns. Over the life of an effective team, the members learn to anticipate one another’s moves and to respond appropriately to support those moves as they occur. They learn as a collective to revitalize and regenerate themselves (adap;t their agenda and operating guidelines) in response to new demands placed on them by the organization or competitive environment . Less effective teams function in ways that lead members to distrust one another, making it more difficult for the team to work together on future initiatives. For instance, team members will be less willing to share their expertise and information with one another if the team culture becomes one of unbridled competition in which individuals play out hidden agendas.

Too often new managers rely solely on the first criterion, team output, when evaluating team effectiveness. On the one hand, this approach makes sense. If a team’s performance is poor or has a negative impact on key constituencies, it is unlikely that its members will find the team experience satisfying or will look forward to working together on future tasks. However, managers neglect the other two effectiveness criteria at their own peril. Many teams have great difficulty learning and enhancing their collective capacity to innovate-as discussed earlier, a key to success in today’s dynamic environment. If team members do not fel their personal needs are being met, employee retention can prove difficult. Replacing talented people is no simple feat. When a company loses employees in foreign markets, for instance, key customer relationships can be adversely affected, and there are often few candidates to replace them. And as turnover statistics indicate, integrating new individuals into a team can be a risky proposition; it can take months before they are full contributors. Furthermore, if team members are not satisfied, they are less likely to identify with the team and less likely to expend much effort pursuing collective goals.

Managing the team itself:
Managers cannot mandate teamwork. Rather, teamwork is a delicate act of design, facilitation and coaching. Mastering each of these three competencies requires new managers to exercise both their conceptual and human skills to coordinate an effective team effort.

Designing the team:
Design is a critical element of successful teamwork. New managers must learn to decide what needs to be done, what type of teamwork is needed, who should be on their teams, and how their teams will be organized

Setting the agenda:
One of the first tasks a manager needs to address is setting the team’s agenda. Members need a clear and compelling sense of what is expected of the team. Members will not value the team unless its agenda is grounded in interdependencies among team members’ areas. Simply because individuals are members of the same work unit or even share a joint task does not mean that they perceived themselves as interdependent or a “team”; that is, as sharing a common agenda and benefiting from collective action.

Although the manager is ultimately held accountable as the team’s chief architect, he or she need not determine the agenda alone. The manager and team members may find it appropriate to jointly decide on the team’s goals. Other things being equal, the more input into the agenda the manager allows the team, the more buy-in and commitment the team will bring to that agenda. More participative approaches, however, usually take more time than directive ones. If time is of the essence, the manager may wish to decide the agenda unilaterally.

What type of teamwork is needed ? After setting the team’s agenda, the manager has to determine just what type of teamwork is needed. How much and what kind of coordination is necessary for the team to fulfill its agenda ? As Peter Drucker, a leading management thinker, points out, teams often fail because their leaders are confused about which type of team they desire. In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, he makes a useful distinction between three types of teams: baseball-type teams, football-type teams, and tennis-doubles-type teams.

Drucker compares the baseball team to both the surgical team that performs an heart operation and the Henry Ford assembly line. He notes that on such teams the players “play on the team”, but do not “play as a team”. They each have fixed positions that they rarely leave. The second baseman never pitches; the surgical nurse never does the anesthesiologist’s job. Drucker notes that some of the advantages of such teams are that individual members can be clearly held accountable for their performance and trained and developed to the fullest extent of their individual potential. And because the interdependency among the members is relatively low, members have to make few adjust-ments to each other. Drucker states the case dramatically, arguing that each position can be staffed with a “star, no matter how temperamental, jealous or limelight-hogging each of them might be”

Drucker compares the Americal football team to a symphony orchestra or an emergency room staff trying to save a heart-attack patient. Like those on the baseball-type team, the members of these teams have fixed positions. As Drucker puts it, the “”the oboe neer comes to the aid of the violas, however badly they flounder.” However, on these teams, players do play as a team. There is a common “score of music” that must be followed. If there are stars on the team, they are featured only if the score calls for a solo. Otherwise, team members must subordinate themselves to the team.

Finally, there is the tennis-doubles-type team, which Drucker compares to an improvisational jazz ensemble or self-managed manufacturing team. On these teams, the players have a primary rather than a fixed position. As Drucker observes, in this kind of team, “only the team performs, individual members contribute”. Team members cover their teammates’ talents and weaknesses and to the changing demands of the game

Each type of team requires distinct behaviour from the leader and the members , and each has different strengths and limitations. But in business, the baseball-type team, in which every position (marketing, manufacturing, finance, human resource management ) does its job its own way, is fast becoming obsolete. The base-ball type team is too inflexible; it only works well when the game has been played multiple times and when the sequences of its actions are thoroughly understood by everyone-circumstances seldom found in business today. While tennis-doubles-type teams are quite flexible, they require intense commitment, trust, and collaboration on the part of the team. Members, have to be trained together and work together for some time before they
can fully function according to the model. Because of this, most teams are not going to be tennis-doubles-type teams. Their work is not that interdependent, and the focus of the team members is not primarily on the team but on their individual areas. Most teams will aspire to the football-type team or symphony orchestra model, in which members each have their own role to play, but realize that they also need to integrate their work more closely with their colleagues. Of course, the more interdependencies that exist among functions and operations of team members, the more the team should aim to resemble a tennis-doubles-type team.

Team composition:
Once the team agenda has been determined and the type of teamwork needed to accomplish that agenda identified, managers have to address the composition of the team. Many experienced managers have concluded that when selecting a new member of the team, “chemistry” with the other team members should be a criterion almost as important as the individual’s expertise and experience. While researching managers who had taken their companies from good to great, Collins observed that they “ attended to people first, strategy second. They got the right people on the bus, moved the wrong people off, ushered the right people to the right seats and then they figured out where to drive it”. New managers frequently inherit an existing group composed of their direct reports. In such instances, managers should make a careful assessment of the individuals in the group so they can correct over time any imbalances and incompetencies in the composition of their teams. It is no accident that more attention is being given to a manager’s responsibility for diligently coaching and managing the performance of the team. Managers, when possible, should carefully balance the similarity/diversity mix of their team members. Members who have complementary experiences, expertise, and styles should be sought. In this regard, managers need to guard against hiring those “in their own image”. Most people have a natural tendency to be attracted to and most comfortable with people like themselves. Team members, however, should be neither so similar that they are clones of each other and offer no added value, or so different that they cannot learn from one another or work together. More homogeneous teams (in terms of values, perspectives, experiences) find it easier to build relationships, as homogeneity promotes trust and east of communication. Hence, homogeneous teams initially have less difficulty than heterogeneous teams in integrating their efforts and working together productively. However, a greater breadth of perspectives, experience, and expertise can be brought to bear on the task at hand in more heterogeneous teams. Therefore, in the long term, these teams seem to display more creativity and problem solving prowess.
(Excerpted from the book titled – Becoming a manager by Linda A Hill)

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