How’s your teaming going?

Rita McGrath
5 min readSep 1, 2022

The traditional model of how teams progress goes by stages — forming, storming, norming and performing. While it’s easy to remember, teams today don’t necessarily follow that model. They’re dispersed, virtual, temporary and potentially remote. So how do you know if things are going well?

As my friend Jeff Pfeffer says, unless you are a sole contributor, your success depends on other people

An essential element in the success of any creative, innovative effort is to create teams of people who can cover diverse terrain, bring different skills to bear and basically work together. In my own research, I found that “deft” teams were essential to being able to create a new competitive advantage. Even though I was interested in new capability creation, I stumbled across teams. Amy Edmondson and I often joke about this — she studied teams and bumped into strategies, and I studied strategies and bumped into teams!

The result of all this research is a simple, but rich diagnostic that can quickly pinpoint where your team may be struggling. It measures five core characteristics that determine whether a team is likely to produce results — or just frustration.

Roles

Obvious, maybe, but if you don’t have the right people in the right roles, your team will struggle. Why does this so often happen? Basically, from a failure to structure the team in the first place.

We put people who are available on teams. We let people volunteer. We let friend groups decide to do projects together. We stick people on teams when we don’t know what else to do with them. In any case, what often happens is that you have a team with critical skill / capability gaps. This slows everything down.

Trust

A big myth of teamwork is that you must like one another to trust one another. I can think of a whole lot of people who I may not be socially happy hanging out with, but whose work and capabilities I would trust immensely. Trust is born of repeated, predictable interaction. If you do what you say you will and behave in a consistent way, that fosters…

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Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.