This post originally appeared on Derrick’s Blog in July 2011.
It’s Likely That Team Performance Is Determined Before You Start!
Why are we doing this? - Before a team is ever put together, it should be “crystal clear” as to the reason for the project, how it ties to overall company objectives, who’s the executive sponsor who is accountable and what defines success at project completion. It amazes me how many projects kick off without any of this information defined. Don’t let it happen to you.
Make sure all of these components are clearly defined before agreeing to be a team lead or a team member. If no one has answers, run for the hills! The likelihood of project success without having these nailed down at project initiation is almost zero.
What attitudes do we need? - Many executives assign people to teams solely based on availability (where is a warm body to dump on this team!) Also, I’ve seen people assigned to project teams only based on skills and background. No one ever seems to ask these people whether they 1) have passion/enthusiasm about the project itself or if they are 2) excited to have the opportunity to be on the team. It’s as if that doesn’t matter.
I’m here to say that passion and excitement are crucial to having a high performing team. I would much rather have a team with average skills that had high energy and passion for the project than a highly skilled team that is not interested in the project at all. Before assigning people to teams, find out if they have passion and positive energy around solving the problem. If they don’t, look for people that do.
What skills do we need? - Don’t get me wrong, after passion and energy, skills are very important. If we did a good job defining the project and what success looks like, we should have a good idea of what skill sets are needed. Again, resist the urge to assign the “next available” person to the team. Find the people with the right skills.
What perspectives do we need? - Solutions to problems can be challenging and they require looking at the issues from many different angles or perspectives. You want a diversity of perspective and thought on your team so seek out people who think differently (e.g. left vs.right brained or customer focused vs. internal process efficiency), work in different functions or departments and who are at different levels organizationally.
The more perspectives you can have, the more comprehensive the problem solving will be.
Do we have an effective team leader? - If you have assembled a team with passion and energy towards the project that have good skills and also have differing perspectives and opinions, we better have an effective team leader! Why? Because a team with these characteristics is bound to have conflict. This is great if you have a team leader that is good at managing team dynamics and knows how to foster an environment of “constructive conflict.” Constructive conflict is where there is significant debate, discussion and disagreement over issues and potential solutions.
You want team members to vigorously attack issues and problems, NOT each other. The team leader has to be skilled in managing this or a bar room brawl could break out!
Conclusion - A lot of what defines a high performing team happens before the team has it’s first meeting. This of course does not guarantee team success but it certainly creates an environment that vastly increases the probability of success and high performance. This is a leadership lesson for everything, not just projects. One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to create an environment where people can succeed. Are you creating these high performing environments?