Building a winning team

Date:   Monday , September 03, 2007

Whether it is cricket, politics, or business, there are entities that outsmart the competition consistently. It is not by chance that Australia wins so consistently against any cricketing team in the World, Communist party never loses power in West Bengal, or Google rules the internet so successfully – behind every success story there is an outstanding team.

Outstanding teams mean exceptional people. Assembling a right mix of talent is very crucial for the long term success. While picking people, I generally focus more on what they can do rather than what they have done before. Trusting an individual’s talent more than his skills or experiences has paid rich dividend for my team with many of the initial hires eventually assuming critical positions within the organization. All of them were exceptionally talented and so it was rather easy for them to pick up all the needed skills and experiences on the job as and when it was required. While individual brilliance is necessary for a team to succeed, it is not sufficient to win in the marketplace. So what is it that differentiates a winning team from an average one? There is no magic. For a team to excel, one needs to ensure that every member understands what the goal for the team is, what needs to be done to achieve the goal, which will do what, how much progress has been made, what mistakes to avoid, and what fortunes it will bring in for them when the goal is achieved. This vision of the bigger picture helps align the talents within the team into a common thread to deliver a superior overall performance.

A team without a clear goal is as disastrous as hitting the road without knowing where your destination is. You will end up losing all your time, energy, and resources in driving without a direction. The winners don’t set out without careful planning. The first thing that you need to know is where the finish line really is. This can be a very high level goal, such as making a product number one in its category or achieving certain level of revenues from the products or services. The goal needs to look realistic, measurable, and achievable – if the goal is set too high, there should be intermediate milestones to check progress and to ensure that the drive is in the right direction.

The next step is to define the execution machine – which will do what. A good casting significantly reduces the need for micro-management – once the goals and milestones are clearly defined, I delegate the actual execution ownerships to the task owners. This empowerment at the task level helps bring the best out of every individual as they are now accountable for the outcome of their own decisions on how to solve a problem.

If something goes wrong, even with the best planning and casting, teams do fail. What could a team possibly do to avoid repeating mistakes and to continuously improve the speed and efficiency with which it is chasing the target? I found the answer in measurement. Measuring the progress at a regular interval provides vital insights into what is going well and what is falling apart. These metrics help take corrective actions, as and when needed, to avoid major breakdowns ahead on the road. Measurement also helps motivate the team by reflecting how their collective contributions are shaping up and what gaps they still need to fill in. Linking these metrics to the yearly performance appraisal makes the appraisal process very objective and further motivates individuals to work on making these metrics look better.

Finally, it is important to celebrate every intermediate success on the way. Celebrations help relieve the pressure and fill the team with renewed energy to chase the next milestone. It provides a sense of bonding within the team which is crucial for the team to stay together in difficult times.

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