Make your business team the best it can be

By Gary Clayton

Winning the the Major Leagues requires each role be fill by the team member with the best skills for the role

Winning in the Major Leagues requires each role be fill by the team member with the best skills for the role

Far too often, I am introduced to executives who have talented teams, but fail to achieve their business objectives. Sometimes, a shortage of talent afflicts the team - and sometimes, the objectives are just set too high. But very often, it results from sub-optimal alignment of the team’s talent. That is a shame, because team alignment is usually is the most easily fixed of all problems.

Business Leaders Can Learn from Sports Teams

As business leaders, we can learn a lot from the world of team sports. Sports teams operate with very simple and direct objectives. The short term objective consists of winning the next game - and the longer term objective consists of winning the league championship. From these objectives come visions of how the game should be played, given the talents of the team’s players and the abilities of the opposing team.

I’m sure that every one of us has shouted at the television as we’ve watched our favorite team fumble it’s way through a game. And we’ve soundly and loudly criticized the team management decisions of the coach. Yet far too often, we do not look at our own executive actions as critically (In fact, this is one of the most fruitful areas in which business coaches can help their clients).

Good Project Team Organization is Dynamic

Let’s look at professional baseball as an example (I chose this because the player roles are so distinct). Throughout the season, both tactical and strategic changes are made to the team on the field. Both the fans and the players accept this as the reality of the game.

  • Pitchers are identified as game starters or relievers, brought in when the opposing team starts scoring against the current pitcher. No pitcher simply assumes he will pitch the entire game.
  • The pitcher who starts the game is chosen based on how well rested he is and the strength of his record pitching against the opposing team. Relief pitchers are often brought in based upon their past skill in getting out the next one or two batters.
  • Fielders are chosen based upon their ability to hit the baseball and field effectively. Both are important. Some players are more effective at getting on base than at driving in other players for runs scored. That will affect where the player will be in the batting lineup. Their running, catching and throwing abilities are important in deciding specifically which position they will play in. Infielders must react quickly, practically instinctively and have accurate throwing arms. Outfielders must be able to sprint in pursuit of a hit ball, see the ball against the sun or stadium lights and throw long distances.
  • If a player’s performance at bat or in the field dips, he may receive extra coaching or even be pulled from the lineup until he demonstrated in practice that he is back to normal.

We expect a very high level of leadership from our favorite sports team’s head coach. Yet far too often, we don’t expect it from ourselves. We often become too focused on our business objective and not focused enough on how we organize to achieve the objective.

  1. Don’t assume each team member understands what his or her distinct role is and what specific contributions you expect him or her to make to the team’s accomplishments. If you have communicated clearly to them, they should be able to communicate your expectations back to you.
  2. Don’t assume that you know it all. Invite each team member to identify ways in which he or she can contribute to the team’s success and how they think the team can work more effectively. Seriously consider what they have to say. Remember that you put them on your team because they are capable.
  3. Don’t assume that the world is static. Revisit how effective your team is in achieving your business objectives. Business conditions can change suddenly and radically, making the current team structure/roles ineffective. Individual team members may be in a slump. It is part of your leadership responsibility to institute change when change is needed, so make the changes necessary to maintain your team’s high performance. Yet, don’t make the team adjustments seem punitive, as everyone has an occasional slump from which they will recover. Remember how often last month’s slumping pitcher becomes this month’s most valued player.
  4. If you use self-organizing teams, don’t assume that they are organized effectively. Make them show you throughout the project how their organization is effective.
  5. Don’t assume that people should play the same roles on every project, including yourself. Each project should be looked at in terms of skills needed, the time commitment necessary for each role - and how well each person has been performing recently.
  6. Don’t assign roles based on personal friendships. This is business. If you are leading effectively, then everyone expects you to assess what is best for the business and lead accordingly. Anything else will cause your high performers to deliver less than their best - or quit.

Above all, step back regularly and gain perspective on how well you are in touch with what is happening, what is likely to happen and how your actions are contributing to achieving your objectives. Don’t lose when you have all the ingredients necessary for success.

Gary Clayton has successfully taken over the leadership of many projects and organizational units that were not living up to their potential. Gary provides business and leadership coaching to leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life.

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