Where to Put your Energy to Help your Team

Richard Hackman and I drew on our many studies of teams over the years to create an assessment that would allow us to capture the most powerful influences on team effectiveness. We named it the Team Diagnostic Survey (TDS), and we tested it with hundreds of teams of many different kinds. It measures the 6 Conditions for Team Effectiveness, which together account for 80% of the variance in how well a team performs.

The TDS allowed us to formulate a helpful heuristic to address where the greatest leverage is to help a team become superb. We call it the “60-30-10 Rule.” The idea is this: Place the major part of your energy—60%–where it will have the most impact; the next most energy—30%–where it will build on the solid foundation of the 60. Spend the last 10% on the real-time work of coaching the team process.

So, what is the 60? Prework. Prework is creating a great team design, “thinking it through.” It is answering the critical questions about how and how well you can get the first 5 of the 6 Conditions for Team Effectiveness in place: Real team. Does this work need a team in the first place? Can I form a stable group of individuals and keep them together long enough for people to learn to work with each other brilliantly? Compelling purpose: How can I convey the importance of this team to our larger vision? What picture can I paint that will allow the members to see what success will look like? Right people: Can I convene team members with both the task skills and the teamwork skills to accomplish those purposes? Solid structure: What norms and work practices will help them succeed? Supportive organizational context: What resources will they need? How can we reward team excellence?

The 60% is intentional design work. Those of us who work with teams can help with prework primarily by coaching and being a sounding board to a team leader.  It needs to be done before a team is brought together. We have, for example, seen far too many CEOs take as a given that their ‘‘team’’ is all their direct reports, and then struggle to articulate what this loose collection of individuals should do together, over and above their individual jobs. We can help them by asking ‘‘What do you need from your leadership team? Which of your senior leaders have what it takes to think about the whole enterprise, and to make decisions in collaboration with their peers?’’ The answers to those questions determine who is invited to the team.

What is the 30? Launch. The next 30% involves breathing life into the team’s basic design and helping the team off to the best possible start. When team members first come together, they need to get oriented, to collectively engage with the group purpose, to formulate understanding about how members will work together, what each has to offer. When a launch is successful, the leader helps a group move from being just a list of names to a real, bounded team.  For those of us who support and develop teams, a powerful point of leverage is helping a leader be well-prepared for an excellent team launch, and helping the team to have robust conversations about their purposes, why stakeholders need them to be a real team, and how they can draw on each others’ capabilities to live up to their purpose.

What is the 10? Coach. The final 10% is hands-on coaching. Only when the team has been well-conceived, and a successful launch process has established the other 5 conditions, can a team really take advantage of excellent interventions into its work processes. And when the first 5 conditions are well established, our research shows that teams are very robust—they can take in and respond well to all kinds of challenges.  Getting a team off to a great start—or restart—is what allows our team coaching, or a team’s self-coaching, to get them on an increasingly positive trajectory toward being a superb team.

Many team development professionals find the 60-30-10 idea immediately challenging to their practice, but also reassuring. It allows us to focus our work more effectively by helping leaders and teams clarify shared purposes, shifting the composition of their teams to address the purpose, eliciting and reinforcing healthy norms of conduct—and sometimes formally re-launching a now better-designed team. It also sets up for success when a well-designed team is genuinely ready for hands-on coaching.

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