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Building High Performing Teams - Are the Right People on the Team?

At some point in their journeys, most leaders find themselves leading a team while knowing that at least one member isn’t contributing in ways that enhance its effectiveness.  

In this third piece exploring the essential components of the Six Team Conditions, we’ll look at examining the key question of, “Does the team have the Right People?” Looking primarily through the lens of senior leader teams, Hackman, Wageman and Lehman discovered in their research that having the right people on the team means it has two things (1):  

1. Right Skills – The team’s skills are both task- and relationship-focused meaning that it has the right skills to accomplish the work as well as the teamwork skills to effectively work together.   

2. Diversity – The team’s membership is diverse enough that a broad range of perspectives is represented while also not being too diverse, meaning that the team members struggle to understand each other's perspectives. 

When it comes to determining the right task-focused skills, many go down the list of staff functions and ensure representatives of each are present. However, what happens most often is that leaders include too many members because they’re afraid to leave out any area of expertise. This can be a detractor if members are not helping to make decisions and take actions that are enterprise wide. In fact, as the research discovered, the more functional areas that are represented on the team, the more likely those members are to view their role solely as advocating for their own area.  

In a similar vein, the researchers found common challenges in ensuring the right mix of relationship-focused skills and diversity. Specifically, they found that all teams need members who have both empathy and integrity (2).  

When it comes to empathy, the research found that team members needed to be able to listen and understand other members, reflect back what they were hearing to ensure clarity, and then be willing to challenge each other in productive ways when they disagreed. Far from meaning that everyone on the team needs to be nice to one another, the ability to be empathetic also led to a higher degree of psychological safety as team members engaged in vigorous and needed conflict for the good of the enterprise. 

In terms of integrity, having the right people on the team means having members who will put organizational issues ahead of their own. Those same members additionally need to display their integrity by keeping information confidential when necessary and by agreeing to actually implement the team’s decisions. 

As leaders examine their teams to determine if the right people are on it, one final and perhaps most consequential action often remains: removing people who are not right for the team. Once the leader determines that someone is not a great fit for the team, he or she must he or she must display the courage necessary to remove that person. Avoiding that tough call and failing to do so will only degrade the team’s effectiveness over time.  

Ensuring the right people are on the team is the third and final “essential” condition out of the Six Team Conditions. Next month, we will be exploring the three “enabling” conditions to better understand their impact on the team’s performance.  

1 Wageman R, Hackman JR, Lehman E. Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument. The Journal of
Applied Behavioral Science. 2005;41(4):373-398. doi:10.1177/0021886305281984
2 Wageman, R. (2008). 2. In Senior leadership teams: What it takes to make them great (pp. 89-95). essay, Harvard
Business School Press.

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