Team Fundamentals, part 1

My friend got a new job involving the oversight of several departments, most of which she had never worked in before. She was told that these teams needed improvement and asked me about a general framework for evaluating a team she had never seen before.

Of course if you know the domain well, you’ve got a mental model against which to compare the current situation. But even without that, by just considering the foundational elements of any high functioning team, you can get a good sense of whether a team is likely to be successful.

Here’s the framework that I use: Purpose, People, Measures, and Methods:

  1. Purpose – Is it clear what problem they are trying to solve? 
  2. People – Are the right people in the right place?
  3. Measures – Do they have the means to know what success looks like and if they are making progress?
  4. Methods – Do they have a standard way of doing their work, individually and as a team?

Every team has to know what they are trying to achieve and has to include the right people to get there. They can start the work, but will rapidly go off course if they don’t know how to measure their progress and ultimate success. They should have consistent processes and, unless this is a one-shot project, a way to improve them as they iterate.

I’ve numbered the foundational elements because they build on each other. The order matters: a clear vision owned by a great team has a chance for success, and will create useful measures and processes. A team of the wrong people with only a process and a metric will spend a lot of energy doing work, getting nowhere. 

I was shopping for clothes the other day and found myself in a name-brand store with items in total disarray, a long line at checkout, and two harried workers making sarcastic comments to customers. I’ve never worked in retail, but I would bet that they have some metrics they have to meet – sales, revenue, etc. – and are severely lacking in all of the other elements. You often don’t have to look any farther than the fundamental to find where the problems lie.

But what makes for a truly effective foundational element? After all, every business has a mission statement – that doesn’t mean they actually use it. In Part 2, I’ll give you a set of questions you can ask yourself as you look at each element.

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