Build your Team Today
While it’s important to construct your team with people who have the right technical skills, you also need people with the right people skills. Teams are about collaboration, and you need to build them with people who can collaborate. A group of top individual contributors who can't work well together are unlikely to develop a great product or service together.
For insights into how to construct great teams, Aquent spoke to Nilofer Merchant, author of The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy and an upcoming book for Harvard Business Press on social business.
Q: How do you build successful teams?
It's all about curating and orienting. By curating, I mean how you pick a diversity of talent, a multiplicity of points of view. If you can get that, your team can have the perspective you need to solve a big problem. Some companies, when there's a new project, choose the same team over and over again, but that doesn't let people challenge the status quo.
By orienting, I mean getting people to feel they have permission to challenge and create together, permission to speak. I mean that literally. If there are dominant, extroverted voices in the room, for example, it can crowd out other kinds of voices. Research has shown that once a person in a group has spoken, she's more likely to speak up later.
Q: How do you get people to talk upfront so you start a virtuous cycle?
The key thing is to get everyone talking in the group's first meeting. It may seem mundane to go around the table in that first meeting and have everyone say their name and a little bit about themselves, but that's crucial to success. We've seen that, when there isn't that sort of introduction, many members of a team are less likely to challenge and probe later. And what they build isn't as good.
Q: Have you found companies open to this?
Sometimes. I had one client that wanted to assemble a hand-picked group of top people to share their ideas on the most important strategic areas they think the company should concentrate on over the next 10 years. I asked how long they were devoting to the meeting, assuming it was at least a day. They said they wanted to do it in an hour or two. That's ridiculous. There's no time for tough questions, and barely enough time to deliver the PowerPoint.
Q: Aside from letting people talk and not trying to cram a day's interactions into an hour, what other practical advice would you have for teams getting started?
If you're building something that you want people to use, you need to have the voice of someone's mother in the room to say how usable it is. If you have the voice of the customer in the room to say how usable it is, then you're more likely to win. If there's someone at the company who spends a good amount of time listening to customers and customer complaints, get that person in the room. Teams need to hear and respond to the voices of people who don't think and look like the people on the team. It might feel like that slows you down in the beginning, but it speeds you up in the end because you know better what you're making and who you're making it for.