It was a dewy winter morning. As the sun shone through the firmament, Arvind walked up to the main porch with tentative steps. He was due for his annual appraisal discussion later in the day. A high potential manager, Arvind led a team of R&D professionals in India who were responsible for core research and design of new products in a high-tech Industry. He had been spending too much time resolving team issues and was stressed at being sandwiched between the demanding senior management and on ground challenges that his team was facing. Leading a team with multiple product lines was a task in itself without adding the geographical complexity.
His manager understood that and could see Arvind struggle. These challenges were discussed during the review and as any sincere manager would have done, the manager consulted the Human Resources team and set Arvind up with a mentor, a senior leader in the organization to deal with his situation.
Arvind spent four months as a part of this intervention and sure enough, he grew as a professional. Soon, he found a plump role and successfully posted for a job in the US. In the meantime, the team continued to flounder, missing deadlines, losing people and in general falling short of expectations. Sounds familiar?
This is not an uncommon scenario in organizations across the globe. When teams underperform, too much attention is given to the leader and his/her individual capability to lead the team. We either end up replacing the leader, formally hiring someone to coach the leader, send the leader for a Management Development program in a premier university, initiate mentoring for the leader or even give better incentives. All of these approaches are very relevant and appropriate. In addition, there is a missing piece that needs attention. In all these approaches, the assumption is that fixing the leader will surely fix the team. True? False.
Very rarely, if at all, the whole team performance rests on one set of shoulders, not to say, these shoulders are not pivotal. However, there is more to it and my effort over this series of two articles is to share what is that ‘more’ and how do we get it to transition our teams from ‘mediocre’ to ‘excellent’ teams. This begs the question; how do you define ‘effectiveness’ of a team?
Decades of path breaking research, studying thousands of teams in the world across industries, sectors and team types led Dr. Richard Hackman, Dr. Ruth Wageman and Dr. Erin Lehman, from Harvard University to converge on some vital aspects of team dynamics which throw light on how to make teams extraordinary.
But first, defining the effectiveness of a team. The obvious answer is - an effective team meets and exceeds the customer expectations. Now, this could be an external customer for a client servicing or sales team or an internal customer for an IT, Quality team etc. What is important is there is a criterion to define success and this criterion is consistently exceeded over a period of time.
Whilst that is one, it is not sufficient. While producing results, the team needs to get better at being a team, which hints at the group processes of working together, decision making, communicating, problem solving, onboarding and exiting smoothly etc. If the team does not do this, the success can be short-lived and eventual failure imminent. I recall working with a Tech start-up not too long ago. They had just received a series B funding, so things were getting serious. As the revenues soared, so did the constant need to intervene every few months to help set things right. At first, there were cross-cultural aspects, then there were aspects of power play between groups and blame games were the order of the day. The business results were through the roof and the CEO knew, this behavior could not go on forever. The groups just needed to learn to work better together. So, group processes became an agenda on his priority list.
The third and one of the most vital criteria to define success is the personal growth of the team members. One client we worked with, hired some brilliant professionals from A list universities and the external market. However, the attrition rate of some of their teams was higher than what was comfortable. Upon close observation, we realized that a lot of these very bright folks, plateaued on their learning curves pretty early in the teams and did not feel challenged and ‘growing’. These were all successful teams that produced great results, however, failed to intentionally help people grow.
In summary, to be considered as effective, the teams need to consistently exceed their customer expectations irrespective of whether they are serving internal or external customers, need to get better at working together and watch their team process and thirdly ensure individuals feel that they are growing as a part of the team.
In the next series, we will talk more about what goes behind making the team effective and how Team coaching is a growing trend in this age of knowledge workers who come together to deliver results in dynamic environments.