Building High Performing Teams – Does the Team Have the Right Structure?
- Leaders cannot assume that just because they have a team, that all the conditions are present for it to be an effective and high performing one. The nearly 20 years of research conducted at Harvard University by Drs. Ruth Wageman, J. Richard Hackman and Erin Lehman can help leaders ensure those conditions are in place.
- As we continue our exploration of the three essential and enabling conditions that drive up to 80% of a team’s effectiveness, we’ll focus this month’s piece on the first of the three enabling conditions: Sound Structure
“Dear Manager, You’re Holding Too Many Meetings.” I recently found myself in a 6 Team Conditions™ community of practice session listening to Dr. Vijay Pereira, professor of strategic and international human capital management at NEOMA Business School discuss findings and recommendations from research he and his colleagues have conducted on meetings. The title of the article made me chuckle as I reflected on the “meeting hells” I have lived through in my professional life. Unsurprisingly, I found the article title & the research findings directly linked.
The findings that managers are holding too many meetings and, in doing so, thwarting team effectiveness could serve as the primary topic for this piece. However, I highlight them to reinforce the findings of Hackman, Wageman, and Lehman in their studies of the Six Team Conditions, specifically their examination of how providing the right structure for a team can dramatically enhance its effectiveness.
While not defined as an “essential” condition, Wageman et al have found that Sound Structure is key amongst the Six Conditions for determining which teams are truly outstanding. What does it mean to have Sound Structure on a team? The research points to three determinants:
1. Team Tasks – The team is doing truly “team work” and members are afforded latitude to accomplish the work based on their judgment and experience
2. Team Norms – The team has clearly defined ground rules highlighting how members have committed to work with one another
3. Team Size – The team is the right size. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, is it not too big, not too large, but “just right” based on the work that needs done?
When examining team tasks, the number of meetings held bare just one indicator of team task effectiveness. Meeting structure can also go a long way in making sure the team is performing meaningful work as opposed to less impactful and more trivial tasks. To accomplish this, meetings should have short agendas, focused on topics directly linked to the team’s purpose and with clearly defined outcomes for each topic. Whether the meeting tasks involve information sharing, consulting, coordinating, or decision making, it’s critical to ensure only the relevant work is being addressed.
Team norms, or agreed upon behaviors for working together, are present whether they’ve been formally developed or not. A recent conversation with a team leader highlighted this as I asked, “So, how do you do things around here?” As he answered, it was clear that certain behaviors were expected, like demonstrated commitment to the team’s objectives and active participation in team dialogue. However, when I asked about how those norms were established, the leader’s answer revealed that they had just formed over time and that new people on the team were just expected to figure out how they were expected to operate. Leaders can accelerate “normalizing the norms” by taking active steps to develop and put them into place, as well as to ensure all new team members have an opportunity to learn what they are as they’re integrated into the team.
Finally, when it comes to team size, leaders can help make sure it’s “just right” by making sure they’ve addressed the “Right People” essential condition. Generally, the smaller the team the better. In addition to having the right people, it is important to recognize that the more people on the team, the harder it is to stay on task, ensure adequate dialog, or accomplish much more than information sharing.
Hopefully this article highlights the need for leaders to closely examine their team’s structure to ensure it is as optimal as possible, and achieve “Sound Structure”. Next month, we will continue our exploration of the three Enabling Conditions as we examine “Supportive Context.”
 Wageman, R. (2008). 2. In Senior leadership teams: What it takes to make them great (pp. 111-138). essay, Harvard Business School Press.
 Wageman R, Hackman JR, Lehman E. Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 2005;41(4):373-398. doi:10.1177/0021886305281984
 Wageman, R. (p.117)
Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.
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