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Tried and tested ways to pick a winning team

John Bellany

Forming the best possible management team is a universal preoccupation for leaders. And it is becoming ever more important as technology challenges the conventional workplace, say Scott Keller and Mary Meaney, writing for McKinsey Quarterly.

Team building is never as simple as sitting all the brightest stars of your organisation at your top table; unless they collaborate effectively your performance will suffer. Keller and Meaney say it’s all a matter of composition and dynamics, quoting basketball legend Michael Jordan: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

Here are some tried and tested rules and tactics to help you build a dynamic and efficient team:

1) Keep your management team to a minimum of six and a maximum of ten. Too few people limits the scope and experience you can draw upon and makes internal competition more likely. Too many people will lead to cliques forming and lack of ownership of team decisions. A very large organisation could create smaller teams with a handful of common members to take an overview.

2) Look at the skills, attitude and experience each person can contribute. Aim for a good balance. Beware trailblazing lone wolves who don’t engage with the team, as well as members who no longer have enough to contribute. Be alert for those who blossom with time.

3) Assess your expectations of good teamwork. Keller and Meaney have asked more than 5,000 executives for their interpretation and the three top answers were:

  • Shared belief in the direction the business is taking;
  • Open communication and willingness to embrace conflict; and
  • Safe risk taking, innovation and meaningful renewal.

4) Ask existing members and relevant stakeholders how they think the team works. You could give them a survey to answer, or talk with each person individually. “Such objectivity is critical because team members often fail to recognise the role they themselves might be playing in a dysfunctional team.”

5) Hold an off-site workshop over two or more days. Working together away from the office can be very effective in bonding the team and reflecting on dynamics, while still tackling essential decision making.

6) Make sure topics on the workshop agenda are worthy of top-team consideration. Don’t make members feel their time is being wasted. Restrict subjects to strategic ones that require multidisciplinary expertise rather than issues that could be efficiently tackled by individual departments.

7) Hold reflective sessions to assess how the team responded. Consider bringing in an impartial observer who can detect disparities in dynamics and encourage members to recognise their own behaviour.

8) Adopt new habits when you’re back in the office. Keller and Meaney cite a Latin American mining company that gave everyone a yellow card they could produce to “safely call out one another on unproductive behaviour and provide constructive feedback”.

Building a dream team will take time, effort and patience. But Keller and Meaney assert that the benefits warrant the investment – their research suggests executives are five times more productive when working in a high-performing team than in an average one.

Source Article: High-performing Teams: A Timeless Leadership Topic
Author(s): Scott Keller and Mary Meaney
Publisher: McKinsey Quarterly