Developing high-performing teams

June 1, 2002


Go to any bookstore and you'll find shelves brimming with volumes on team effectiveness. Type the keywords "team effectiveness" into any Web search engine and you'll be bombarded with advertisements for team improvement consultants. The research has been done, and the results are in: Teams are fundamental to organizational success; yet, ineffective teams are pervasive throughout most organizations and in all industries.

To maximize team effectiveness, many high-tech companies are using a "best in class" model by Lominger Ltd. (, a creator of integrated leadership development products headquartered in Minneapolis. By adapting tools such as Lominger's Team Architect, companies can use a five-step process to identify team strengths and weaknesses and provide clear direction to fast development remedies.

Viewing team effectiveness
The key to solving the team effectiveness puzzle lies in the proper diagnosis of a team's areas of "weakness." That diagnosis is most accurate when looking first at the broader picture-the details of team functioning and each member's understanding of goals. Ultimately, team effectiveness is viewed according to seven factors:

  • Thrust. Common mindset about what needs to be accomplished.
  • Trust. Trusting others to do what is right for the team and for each other.
  • Talent. The necessary collective skills to get the job done.
  • Teaming skills. Operating the team's business effectively and efficiently.
  • Task skills. Effort necessary to get the job done.
  • Team support from the organization. How well the leadership of the organization enables the team to perform.
  • Team leader fit. How well matched the team leader is with the needs of the team.

Each of these factors is multifaceted. In the category "thrust," for example, a team may have set its course early and well (thrust management), but the goals and objectives may not have been clear to everyone on the team (thrust clarity). In this example, we can see that thrust may be an area for development and can further hone in on the specific issue of clarity. The fine detail of the seven factors is found in 80 different team competencies. While that may sound overwhelming, it is in fact easily managed through a solid, systematic assessment process that is completed in five steps.

In a recent example, a software development team with a track record of high performance hit a plateau and thought more talent would be the answer. As a result of a Team Architect session, they realized their biggest constraint was primarily factors external to their team-"team support from the organization." A detailed action plan was drafted and productivity soon increased. In addition, they did not disrupt the team with an unnecessary influx of new team members nor did the company incur the additional head-count costs.

Five steps to higher effectiveness
In a single session, a team's current skill level is assessed against the skills the team needs to be high-performing. A gap analysis between the current and ideal state is conducted and a clear action plan is delivered. The five steps used are:

  1. Assess the current skills of team.
  2. Assess skills needed to be high-performing.
  3. Analyze gaps.
  4. Develop an action plan to close gaps.
  5. Determine the ongoing coaching need/desire.

Steps 1-2. Team members individually review 80 competencies, rating (on tally sheets) their perceptions of the team's current skill level in each competency. Remember, the 80 competencies are finely tuned statements that will ultimately fit into seven team effectiveness factors. However, the 80 competencies are presented in a random order, with each competency being silently reviewed and rated by each team member.

Results are tallied and shown to the entire group, after which each competency is presented under the heading of the effectiveness factor that it represents (thrust, trust, etc.). Immediately, a picture emerges. Here we see where there is consensus (those factors for which a majority of team members agree is a strength or weakness) as well as incongruity (factors that some team members see as a strength while others see as a weakness).

Consensus is reached and each member of the team now has a clear and shared understanding of the team's areas of strength and weakness. The process is repeated in step 2, this time with the each team member reviewing the 80 competencies, asking "How important is this skill if we are to be high-performing?" Results are tallied and presented in the same manner as step 1, and again consensus is reached.

Step 3. While we find that all steps in the process are eye opening to participants, the third step, "gap analysis," is the most revealing. Here team members visually see where their development needs lie. A factor that team members agreed must be a strength (to be high-performing), yet has been identified by all as a current weakness, is a very clear development need.

At the same time, and just as important, team members see the areas where they do not need development-competencies they are strong in today and need to be strong in for the future. Celebrating those successes (and there are often more of those than development needs) is very important to the development process.

In another recent experience, a newly formed program design team consisting of several smaller preexisting teams was working very hard on a variety of programs while initially going through a team session. As a result of comparing what was critical to their success and the team's current skill level in those areas, the team was able to refocus much of its effort into better defining their purpose. That in turn allowed them to realign the efforts of people with the work that would be of greater value to the team and more satisfying to the individuals.

Steps 4-5. An action plan is the next step and is fairly simple. Team members discuss developmental remedies, review the benefits and barriers to development, gain commitment to development from all members, assign time frames, identify any support required, and formulate the next steps. Often, a team will elect to have some ongoing team coaching.

Lominger provides 10 clear developmental remedies for each of the seven team factors. Although the factors are multifaceted, the 10 tips provided for developing each are varied, covering a range of both developmental difficulty and learning style. The end result is that using this method, a team's current skill level is assessed against the skills the team needs to be high-performing-all in a single session. A gap analysis between the current and needed state is conducted and a clear action plan is delivered.

This method has been used successfully by dozens of organizations recently as a valuable tool for shaping and sharpening the focus and effectiveness of teams.

Fiore Londino is vice president of talent management for Marconi. He can be reached via the company's Website,