Sunday, April 18, 2010

Developing a 'Winning' Business Team

Business teams, regardless of whether they are top teams, management teams or departmental/project teams, almost always have room for improvement that often goes unnoticed or unchallenged by those involved. As Herb, Leslie and Price (2001) correctly summarised, “a poorly performing team breeds competing agendas and turf politics; a high-performing one, organisational coherence and focus.”

In many organisations teamwork appears to be viewed as less important than individual performance - which is encourage by rewarding individual performance much more than team performance. This leads to a general acceptance that teamwork is likely to be dysfunctional, so let’s just accept it, moan about it over coffee and do very little to fix the problem.

Sports teams know that to be a ‘winning’ team they have to work together as a cohesive unit; they need to understand and support each others strengths and weaknesses; and they have to perform at the highest level, game after game (and that a single good performance doesn’t equal success). Not only do they need to perform each game, but they accept that they need to improve their performance game after game, if they are going to ‘compete’ at the highest level.

Further, winning sports teams know that it’s not about a collection of the most expensive players that makes them the best, but it’s about having a group of talented people who can work together ensuring success after success; and even after a bad performance bounce back immediately. These are teams focused on success.

Sports teams have the advantage that they regularly train together to improve their performance, which is mostly absent in the business team. In organisations the ‘team meeting’ is the training ground; but this is very rarely used as a training experience. How many business teams do you know that regularly review their team performance after each meeting, looking at how they could have worked better and assessing what they can do as individuals and as a team to improve their performance at the next meeting?

Business teams need to spend more time assessing their performance and identifying ways in which they can improve their team work. To support this, organisations need to set specific objectives for their business teams, which must be reviewed on a regular basis, (organisations set targets for other key influencing variables and appraise individual performance, so why not appraise team performance?)

An effective business team, like a winning sports team, will always have clearly defined goals and objectives, which will be fully owned by all the members of the team. Each member will fully understand their specific role in the team, where they add value and how they can support the team process. The team will work together as a cohesive unit focusing on the business objectives and supporting each other in the process.

Shrewd strategic leaders, like the best sports coaches, will constantly develop talent within their organisation, so they have a ‘talent pool’ that they can call on to ensure their business teams always operate at the highest and most efficient levels. These leaders know that spending time developing their business teams, at all levels, will not only improve team performance, but enhance decision making and significantly improve corporate performance.


Herb, E., Leslie, K. and Price, C. (2001). Teamwork at the Top. The McKinsey Quarterly. No. 2, p.32-43.

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