Selecting team members wisely has grown in importance as we have shifted into an era where teams are prevalent in the workplace, tackling complex challenges that require innovative responses.
At Ziba Design, where such projects are the norm, the company has discovered that successful teams require the delicate intermixing of four different roles. “We are dependent on the team and team dynamics,” Chelsea Vandiver, executive managing director of creative at the Oregon-based consultancy, says in an interview.
She describes the four roles, for which you need to find people with the appropriate skills, as follows:
These people come up with great ideas. The problem is that they usually love to come up with more and more ideas, frustrating the colleague or customer who wants solutions. Ms. Vandiver notes that many companies lack idea generators and, when they hit a roadblock that requires an innovative solution, the best they can do is replicate the past.
This person can help the team to focus, picking out the ideas that will work by sharing some effective decision-making approach. Often this person is the team leader, but not necessarily.
This individual focuses on idea implementation, not idea generation or idea selection. Makers concentrate on the market opportunities and the hurdles to implementation. They like to get things done.
These people get the team working together in an effective manner. Their role is more than project management; it involves understanding the people and the process, and finding synergies. “Collaborators can be great team leaders, but they don’t have to lead to be effective. What’s more important is that they be genuinely fascinated by the capabilities and needs of the people around them, and find it nearly impossible to ignore opportunities for connection,” Ms. Vandiver writes in Rotman Magazine .
These four roles may seem familiar, but you may not have thought deeply about them when setting up teams. Using them effectively, she explains, will depend on the size of the team and the project phase but, in general, she suggests following these overriding rules:
Generators need editors
If you have great idea people, they are likely to be poor at idea selection. They also prefer to be with others who love to toss ideas around forever rather than pick one and move forward. Pair them with an editor.
Generators and editors need makers
Generators and editors have an Achilles heel, however: Their allegiance is to the idea, not its implementation. That’s okay if the end goal is a presentation, as might be the case with some strategy projects. But if the purpose is to implement, as with product development, find a maker – the implementer.
Large teams need collaborators
Small teams may be fine with people filling only the first two or three roles. But as the team gets larger, and its dynamics become more essential to success, you must find a collaborator.
Ms. Vandiver calls the process of combining different talents for different purposes ‘team alchemy.’
“What ultimately makes team alchemy such a useful concept is that it recognizes there are different ways to be competent,” she writes in the magazine article. “Just as every project requires a different mix of skills, every team size works best with a different mix of roles. There are plenty of combinations that work, and many more that don’t.”
In a two-member team, for example, you want one idea generator, not two. “If you have two generators, it will never work. You absolutely need a generator but need to partner them with an editor to screen the ideas, or a maker who forces the generator, through such efforts as prototyping, to choose what to do,” she explained in the interview.
For three-member teams, you usually need a generator, an editor and a maker. Without a maker, the team can bog down; with all three roles filled, it can be very productive. As the team grows, and if the problem is complex, a collaborator is needed too. “You need someone watching the team itself and concentrating on flow or synergy,” she said.
In the first stage of a project (defining the problem), an editor is needed to help understand what the task is. In the next stage (designing), generators are essential. She suggests taking editors out of the room initially so people can push forward ideas without restraints, before bringing back that editing role. In the final stage (developing), the maker takes the lead. If roadblocks are hit, generators may be needed for inspired workarounds.
Ms. Vandiver believes that people have innate strengths in one area, but can be trained for other roles – although when under stress, they may revert to type. Her design house attracts lots of generators but has trouble finding collaborators. That may not be true of other companies, she notes, but she is worried because the education system doesn’t teach this skill set. And for many teams and projects, collaborators determine success.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter