When I conducted my first field research project as a graduate student at Harvard, I studied the work of customer service reps who had just been re-organized into self-managing teams. The transition was consequential, both for the service reps and for their front-line managers. The service people went from having a highly autonomous job—each had his or her own customers, schedules, preferred repair practices—to a highly interdependent job of shared territories, team-designed work processes, and coordinated schedules and practices. For the first line managers, I remember, it was also a very significant transition—from supervisor of 10-20 individuals to the coach of 2-4 teams.
That word coach carried a lot of freight—how should they, the managers wondered, change their practices so that teams could truly feel ownership of their work, and take superb care of customers? What precise alchemy of coaching behavior, such as coordinating tasks, asking good questions, motivating their teams through cheerleading and recognition, would shape them into superb teams? What “supervisor” behaviors, such as telling a team all its problems and how to solve them, were now problematic, and had to be eliminated from their repertoires?
It’s a set of questions I have heard in different forms over the years. How can I coach my teams to greatness? What are the handful of must-dos and must-not-dos for team leaders that really make a difference? How do I make sure that it’s not the struggling teams that are getting all my energy? Where should I put my attention as a manager so that all the teams I lead have the best chance to succeed?
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, 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 these team leaders’ questions about where to put their team leadership energy. We call it the “60-30-10 Rule.” The idea is this: Place the major part of your team leadership 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.
So, what is the 60? Prework. The big team leadership task is creating a great team design. Think of it as prework, or “thinking it through.” This leadership task is about 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. Answering these questions are acts of leadership that should be done long 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. The best CEOs, by contrast, first ask: ‘‘What do I want of my leadership team? Which of my 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 determines who is invited to the table.
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 one another and to the task. This orientation involves establishing the boundary that distinguishes members from nonmembers, starting to formulate understanding about how members will work together, what each has to offer, and collectively engaging with the group purpose. When a launch is successful, the leader helps a group move from being just a list of names to a real, bounded team. Even so, it does not all happen at once—some cycling back to issues that the leader may have thought were already settled inevitably occurs. In the course of a launch, for example, we see that members often test the leader’s statement of purpose, they may ask clarifying questions that have a confrontational undertone, and they eventually redefine the purpose at least to some degree. That is one reason why it is so important for a leader who commissions a team to achieve clarity in his or her mind during prework. It is during prework that a team leader can get clear on just what is needed from a team, and about those aspects of the purpose that are negotiable—and those that are not.
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 like coaching. 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, from rapid changes in their environments to less-than-perfect coaching.
The front-line leaders of those newly organized self-managing teams I described at the outset of this post found the 60-30-10 idea both immediately helpful, and also reassuring. They were able to concentrate on the work of clarifying shared purposes, shifting the composition of their teams, eliciting and reinforcing healthy norms of conduct—and sometimes formally re-launching their newly well-designed teams. It gave them latitude to learn a new approach to the daily hands-on work with their teams, and to stretch their managerial repertoires into increasingly skilled team coaching.