What happens when you curate real teams

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There comes a point in your career where the word team causes indigestion. We've all been on a "team" that did absolutely nothing beyond meeting and talking about doing. There was no one to carry out the plans or the team stopped being relevant long ago and no one disbanded it.

We've been on teams that got momentum (and therefore noticed by leadership), only to have the team's resources cannibalized and diverted to additional projects.

Then there's the dreadful committee, thrown together on a whim, without any real authority, and consisting of already overworked employees.

Whether you are developing your board, an executive team, or a project team, diversity reigns. This includes diversity in capacity. Without conscious curation of compatible personalities and balanced skill sets, leadership breaks down from within, never getting the chance to fulfill the collective goals of the group.

I've witnessed multiple nonprofit directors salivate over a potential board member from a behemoth law firm or bank. They don't consider that these high-level professionals often sit on multiple boards, have honed their skills at saying no when assignments or donation requests go around, and may never have time to show up to a meeting.

Similarly, I've watched as new executives are promoted into leadership teams based on their ability to do the day-to-day work only for chaos to ensue because their personality and style steps on the toes of the established team they must work within.

Project teams are one of the most obvious examples of terrible team dynamics. We assign the already swamped department head to oversee and add in her direct reports.

How many committees, boards, or teams have you sat on? How many have truly engaged you in action rather than just sitting?

Let's build our teams to get stuff done:

  1. Establish a list of priority outcomes for the team.
  2. Identify the critical skills and resources necessary to produce those outcomes efficiently.
  3. Begin identifying the people who have those resources AND the capacity to bring them to the table. Mix it up. Cross-functional teams create better results and companies that take advantage of energy and talent lower down stimulate employee engagement, problem solving, and intelligent succession routes.
  4. Once you have a list of ideal recruits, identify each person's personality and typical group role.
  5. Create a final team line-up with one dominant leader, at least two task-oriented doers, and at least one wise person who has a knack for setting the tone, managing dominant personalities, and drawing out the observant personalities.
  6. Finally, invite these players to your team specifically to fill those roles in a way that brings out their unique contributions. Don't leave your hopes and expectations to chance, but also provide space for them to share how they think they might best support the goals.

Ask your wise person to set the tone. Ask your type-A personality to record results and track progress (forces them to listen). Ask your doers to be implementation leads. When the team first meets, introduce the people AND the primary resource you hope they can offer to the team.

By using this method we:

  • Create ownership by allowing team members to opt-in;
  • Guide contributions to fill the actual needs;
  • Prevent the doers from becoming martyrs by appreciating their skills and ability;
  • Remove the guilt from the advisors who don't have the time or skills to implement; and
  • Produce momentum and engagement, leading to outcomes.

The bottom line: If you can't commit to at least rushing through these steps prior to creating a "team", don't do it at all. People are a valuable and limited resource, especially volunteers. Don't waste such opportunities haphazardly.

Have a horrid team experience? What was the problem? Conversely, what created the magic within the teams that brought out the best in you?