Over the past two decades, both in industry and now as research and development director at the IMD Business School in Switzerland, Marco Mancesti has been studying why teams fail. Whether it's startups or project implementation teams, five elements ultimately determine success or failure.
Teams are essential to today's workplace. And the essence of teams, he states in an article on the institution's website, are purpose, integration, knowledge, ecosystem, and self – or PIKES. You need to hire with PIKES in mind and also nurture those elements throughout the team's time together. Here's how:
Team members must be motivated by a sense of purpose or they will not make it through the difficult times ahead. That purpose may link to the employee's overarching life goals or simply be related to change they would like to see in the workplace. It will differ for team members but must be there for each. A risk is having a teammate who only joins because the post will look good on a résumé. He recalls somebody telling him they wanted to work for one of the Big Five accounting firms, which was not sufficient motivation when difficulties arose.
When interviewing, ask questions from different angles to probe purpose and how this job lines up or doesn't. Also, call references, and dig deeper on this point – although many executives view reference checking as ineffective, at times it can be highly useful and surprising, he says. After the team is assembled, encourage them to share their differing purposes and how those align with the project, and take every opportunity to return to this theme.
This addresses cohesion and the ability to work together. You want to be alert to when they might be collaborating suboptimally or, worse, one team member might be sabotaging another, actively or by omission. When recruiting, involve the whole team and listen to feedback since it's their partners who are being picked. This will help to build collective responsibility. Over time, watch for signals when the team may not be collaborating – "I wasn't aware" excuses can signal a deeper problem. "You want a team that can talk issues out without your intervention – that is open and give feedback to each other," he said in an interview.
Team members, collectively, must have the requisite skills and knowledge to complete the task. These days, he feels you should be getting experts to check with tests that the skills listed on the résumé are accurate. At the same time, recognize the importance of unrelated skills that may not seem important now but may emerge later as particularly helpful. Continually check for gaps in the skills at your team's disposal and what will be needed in future – and also ensure training and development to improve.
This captures each individual's capacity to understand the dynamics of the culture and broader environment so they can mobilize resources to succeed. He stresses the big danger is somebody who doesn't fit in – who systematically generates "antibodies" when reacting with higher management or the wider community. When hiring, see whether their previous experience exposed them to a similar ecosystem, although a fallback can be holding a similar function in a different environment. "The key is to understand internal dynamics," he stresses. Keep returning to this theme in team meetings, alerting and training team members to understand and handle the context in which they operate.
This is one of the least-discussed issues in project management, but along with purpose, it's the area most likely to lead to difficulties. You want individuals who are self-aware, in control of their emotions. "Uncontained stress has the potential to derail all the other dimensions. It is therefore crucial that strategic teams have stress management as a core competency and are fully aware of where weaknesses lie in order to be able to anticipate stress-related challenges," he writes in the article.
In recruiting, ask questions that help you to understand the candidate's behaviour. If candidates tell him they never get stressed, he doesn't believe them and worries about their self-awareness. Individuals need to know when they might act poorly so they can contain potential damage. As the team's work progresses, ensure preparation and training in these personal skills.
Don't keep these five dimensions to yourself. Share them with the team. Work together to apply it to the team's work, so you can scale the peaks and valleys ahead.
Web tail: Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, 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 column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter