Happy_TeamManagers responsible for team performance often fall into one of two traps. Some continue to act like traditional bosses, telling the team what to do and how to do it. Others think they’re “empowering” the team by maintaining a hands-off policy; neither approach works.

According to the Professor J. Richard Hackman of Harvard University, the team success depends on four essential aspects: an appropriate balance of authority between the leader and his/her team; a continuing learning environment; clear performance goals and metrics and an adequate organizational support.



1.The balancing act; On the one hand managers have to spell out the team’s objectives unambiguously and unapologetically. That keeps teams from spinning their wheels over what they should be doing. “To authoritatively set a clear, engaging direction for a team,” says Hackman, “is to empower, not de-power, it.” On the other hand, decision-making authority over the means to those ends should rest with the team itself. Team members can act as a team only if they have real responsibility—such as determining how to achieve their goals.


Practical experience has taught another lesson about teams’ authority: the scope of their freedom of action can and should change over time. “What we encourage [managers] to do is start off very slowly and keep the boundaries pretty tight,” says Tom Ruddy, a former manager at Xerox. “As the team starts to grow and expand, and take on responsibility, start moving those boundaries out.” Even with successful teams, Ruddy says, a manager needs to be involved. Even though a team may have a lot of decision-making authority, there needs to be a manager scanning the horizon to determine which direction the team should head next.


2.Learning team skills; Teams must be trained in teamwork: members often need help in skills such as listening, communicating with different kinds of people, and staying focused on the task. This is not news. But companies have learned that the common approach of “train first and ‘team’ later” isn’t effective. A better alternative: Periodic training. For example a training session aimed at developing norms of behaviour can be followed by a few weeks on the job and then another session to revise the norms. “It’s on-the job training, rather than just ‘inoculating’ them all at once” says Ruddy.


Experience also shows that nothing teaches teamwork like working on teams over a period of years. Members don’t just have to learn new skills; they must also unlearn traditional roles. In fact, it takes time before the hierarchy within the team started to disappear and the team is capable to function by its own.


3.Goals and metrics; Any successful team is focused on performance. The team has a well-defined set of goals and agreed-upon methods for achieving them. What’s more, members hold one another accountable for the performance of the whole group. These characteristics distinguish a true team from a conventional department or work unit. “A team,” wrote Jon R. Katzembach and Douglas K. Smith “is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”


But goals and accountability require metrics allowing teams to assess their progress. One mark of a successful team is that members understand this fact and design their own measurements. The latest insight on performance measurement: Metrics need to be related to business goals, not just operational goals.


4.Company support; When teams first became popular, many companies established them—and promptly forgot about them. Since then, researchers and practitioners have learned that successful teams require ongoing support from the whole company or unit. That support may involve extensive changes. Orientation and training, for example, must be geared toward teamwork. Managers may need to be assigned to work on teams so they have firsthand experience with team-related issues.


Joseph Reres, a business consultant, recommends setting up a “steering committee” to monitor the work of teams—and to ensure managers are helping rather than hindering teamwork. Companies are now beginning to grapple with other forms of support, and not all have done so successfully.


On the face of it, says Hackman, “the conditions that foster team effectiveness are simple and seemingly straightforward to put in place.” Yet what’s required for success can be a wrenching organizational change, threatening the turf and interests of powerful people inside the company. Indeed, setting up the conditions that make for successful teams is “more a revolutionary than an evolutionary undertaking.”