Forming Your Team – Part 1


My last post described the Why of your team and now we will move to the next conversations, Form.

Rhythm of Team Conversation Model
Rhythm of Team Conversation Model – © 2017 Jennifer Nash & Andy Robbins

The conversations of Form bring your team into being.  This includes designing the type of team that best meets the purpose, recruiting team members, onboarding them and clarifying roles and responsibilities.  This is a lot of work that if done well will avoid many issues later on.

Common Breakdowns

In my experience, most teams are formed by assigning team members.  A group of leaders agree on the need to form a team and they volunteer a member of their group.  From the perspective of a team member, they are ‘voluntold’ to join the team.  For the team members this can be very problematic, and common problems include:

  • Lack of team member capacity. High performing people are often heavily over-utilized
  • Members are not interested in the purpose of the team.  They make a minimal contribution and focus their efforts elsewhere.
  • A particularly impactful problem is a misaligned reward system.   Team members are not rewarded for the team outcome, and instead are wholly rewarded for their individual results outside of the team.  In this case, the team will always come second.
  • There is a lack of planning and the team ends up with a random mix of skills with excesses and gaps.

I assume you have experienced some of the problems above and if so, I hope you agree that designing the team is a critical first step in the Form stage.  Designing a team includes deciding:

  • What team structure is most appropriate?
  • Who needs to be recruited to join the team?

Team Structure

Let’s start with designing the team structure.  Broadly speaking, there is a continuum of team structure from leader directed to self-managed.  The diagram and table below illustrates the two types:

Leader Directed Self-Managed
Description Groups with shared goals and a mix of collective and individual work products Teams with shared goals and wholly collective work products
Outcome Mixture of collective and individual outcomes Collective outcome is much larger than individual contributions
Leadership Mostly Leader led Leadership is situational and shifts
Optimal Size Medium Small
Roles Mostly fixed Flexible
Accountability Mostly Leader Enforced Team Enforced
Power Positional Power based on role Power assigned based on trust
Communication Structured Complex & Dynamic
Rewards Performance to individual goals Performance against Team  Goals

Leader directed teams are most appropriate when the level of active collaboration required to achieve the outcome of team is low.  An example of such a team could be a team of sales reps, each with a different territory.  They may collaborate to share best practices and beyond that they work individually in their respective regions.  The leader measures the results of each individual by the sales in their territory, and the result of the team is the sum of their individual results.

In contrast self-managed teams are particularly effective in highly creative situations, where active collaboration from multiple disciplines is key.  The interaction among team members generates the outcome and the members are rewarded collectively.  Individual contributions are not easily identified.  Leadership in the team shifts depending upon situation and who is best suited to lead that particular activity.  Cross team trust must be high for this model to be effective and it is more difficult to maintain.

Hybrid Teams

In practice, teams are generally a hybrid of the two types described above, but they are still oriented towards one type or another.  I have observed serious team dysfunction when one type of team tries to adopt conflicting practices of the other type.  For example, a leader directed team with a low need for collaboration trying to become a highly collaborative team, because increased collaboration is thought to be helpful.  This ends up with wasted time and effort, and frustration across the team as they struggle to overcome the conflict with their team structure.

Investing time to intentionally design your team will avoid numerous breakdowns as your team members start to work together.  I will address the second part of Form in my next post when I describe recruiting, onboarding and clarifying roles and responsibilities.