So who should be in your gang?

A balanced team, whose members compliment each other, pull together, take ownership and respect and like each other, can produce fast, innovative results. Too often, however, a team is a melting pot of disparate characters, abilities and social skills, on a course to self-destruct.

It is hard to overstate the importance of recruiting the right mix of members. Ultimately, each team can come up with their own criteria for choosing team members, but the following are some fundamentals to help guide you:

The Juggling Act

One marketing person + one accountant + one engineer = a team; of course teams need the right level and mix of expertise and professional experience; but truly successful team recruitment goes beyond these basics to bring together people with the right:

  • Skills
    e.g. the creative ‘ideas’ person, the analytical thinker, the ‘doer’, great researcher; but beware: while too many team members of similar types will result in too much consensus and too little challenging of opinions, too many different types can result in a battle ground

Impact of Gender and Race on Teams

In a study of 31 teams in a medium-sized US state regulatory agency members of cross-functional project teams that vary in gender or race composition rated their team as less effective than members of homogenous teams.

  • Rank
    e.g. a relatively low ranking member of staff from say the marketing department may not be up to contributing to a team of otherwise senior individuals, working on devising a new corporate strategy
  • Values
    having their underlying personal values in common can help build cohesion and help motivate a team by giving them a shared sense of purpose in their work

Value in Values

AT&T held a ‘values workshop’ for its Southwest area managers. Each manager defined their personal values, then:

  • identified values that defined high performance within their teams
  • developed a ‘values statement’ for their team, including the behaviours they wanted to see to support the values
  • came to a ‘greater understanding of diversity and individual differences’, and the ability to look at differences in a non-judgmental way
  • personal qualities
    it is now recognised that certain ‘team member’ attributes are needed for effective teamworking:

    • extrovert
      research has proven that extroverts are particularly effective team-members, due to their openness and readiness to share information – a key factor in teamworking
    • willing to trust
      team members must be able to trust each other, firstly to get on with the job, and secondly to support each other
    • responsible
      teams are frequently self-managed and/or set their own agenda, therefore everyone needs to pull their weight: shirkers, or those who need greater guidance will find life more difficult
    • with external ‘locus of dependence’
      ie depend on others for their sense of achievement and satisfaction; people who are self-motivated, and work to their own agenda will tend to be more solo players, and will buy in less to teamwork

Finding the Right Fit

Belbin’s Interface IV test goes one step further than the Myers-Briggs or 16PF psychometric tests, by identifying actual team roles members are most likely to play. According to the research, pioneered by Dr Meredith Belbin at Henley college, there are 8 common team roles/types:

  • co-ordinator: mature, balanced, conservative; good as chairperson
  • plant: clever, innovative, creative, unorthodox
  • shaper: dynamic, great ‘drivers’; but may force through their view
  • resource investigator: extrovert, outgoing, networker
  • monitor-evaluator: serious, strategic; the thinker of the team
  • teamworker: mild, perceptive, accommodating, reliable
  • completer: painstaking, careful, conscientious
  • specialist: single-minded, self-starter

Most people are a combination of the above, although usually one or two types are more dominant. Ideally all types should be present to give the team the best balance: a team tilted too much towards a few types could spell trouble — e.g. too many plants and shapers, and no completers, can produce great ideas with no results.

Mindset

Mindset s linked to, and will vary according to the type of team they are to join; for example:

  • a self-managed team will require people who, in turn are self-managed, ie do not need dragged to a deadline, and do not need a great deal of guidance
  • a virtual team will require members who are at ease communicating without seeing each other, and highly organised/disciplined to be proactive about communicating with each other

A Question of Culture

Team members’ acceptance of the communication norms may be determined by their cultural differences; a senior partner at San Francisco-based Management Strategies consulting firm leading an international team developing a Japanese-language version of an internet search service expected to be told by team members if she was proposing something stupid. In reality, she had a fatal flaw in her plan, and the Japanese team members knew it, but it was not their style of communication to embarrass her by telling her.

  • culture
    i.e. ‘way of doing things’; for example, removing hierarchy within a team may come completely naturally to team members from a Western culture, but may completely go against the grain for those from more deferential cultures

Perhaps the best solution is to let them recruit themselves…