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Transcript: Choose the right team and you're more than half way along the road to success

A work team celebrates their success

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am speaking with Harvard University's Richard Hackman.

Sadly, Richard Hackman passed away on Jan. 8, 2013.

KARL MOORE – Richard, you had a new book come out recently. What are some of the key messages of that book?

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RICHARD HACKMAN – The book is called Collaborative Intelligence and it wouldn't be a title if it didn't have a colon which is, Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems.

What we were able to do was go in and look at teams in the U.S. intelligence community that are solving problems, doing analysis, and importantly trying to identify and snuff out potential terrorist threats before the terrorist threats occur. The U.S. intelligence community turns out to be a great place to understand teams because there are so many of them, they are all cross-functional teams, the work is very challenging but the tasks are often ambiguous.

So, we were trying to snuff out when you have teams that have to do really important work, in real time with a deadline, what do you need to have in place to increase the chances that they are going to do well?

The results, it turns out – what we talk about in the book – are relevant to creating and supporting intelligence teams but also other teams where you have that combination of real work, real time, and you can't go back and necessarily do a re-take.

The main topline message is what I call the 60-30-10 rule (that adds up to 100) – 60 per cent of how well a team does is determined by how the team was set up in the first place. Is the task designed to be really clear and engaging? Is it clear who is in the membership? Are the right members in place? You get the team structured right rather then toss the team a task and go assume the team will work out the details – it doesn't work that way. That is 60 per cent.

Thirty per cent is in launching the team, that is getting the team together to figure out who are we, what are we going to do and how are we going to operate? We learned this in aviation many years ago that just having a briefing before the flight crew goes off to fly an aircraft makes a huge difference in how well and how safe they fly. The same is true for other kinds of teams. Take a few minutes to make sure you know who you are, who is on the team and who is not, what you are supposed to accomplish and when, and what your core norms of conduct are – what goes and what doesn't go. That's the 30 per cent and if you can get the 60 per cent and the 30 per cent taken care of then the team leader can help the group take advantage of its good performance circumstances.

That's kind of the main message that the book tries to bring, both to people who are in the intelligence community. We want to make sure that our analytic teams and our counter-terrorist teams work well but also people who are creating or leading teams in other domains as well.

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