Managers who wish to improve the performance of their teams tend to focus on the team’s ‘internal workings’, clarifying the team’s goals and roles, building spirit and motivation, providing focused agendas and agreeing rules for decision making. However, a new book written by Deborah Ancona, a Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and Henrik Bresman, from INSEAD, state that these attributes alone are not enough to ensure that a team is successful.
The authors have harnessed decades of their research and documented their findings in their book, X-Teams: How to Build Teams That Lead Innovate and Succeed. While Ancona and Bresman recognize the importance of the ‘internal workings’ of a team, the most successful teams, which they dubbed X-Teams, had team spirit, but they also projected ‘upwards and outwards’ from the team. They established cooperative relationships, sought out key information from other teams and outside sources, communicated the team’s mission to key stakeholders and actively pursued support from management. The poorest-performing teams, on the other hand, just focused on their own inner workings and relationships.
While the phrase ‘X-Team’ is new, the idea that successful teams need to go outside themselves is less so. For example, Margerison and McCann identified that all successful teams at some time in their life have to interact with others external to themselves. Margerison and McCann’s specifically identified two activities in their Types of Work Model relating to this issue. For example they identified:
- The activity of Advising which involves the team gathering information (from others) and disseminating it to the rest of the team so that it can be used effectively.
- The activity if Promoting which means selling the ‘benefits’ of the team and what the team does not only to key stakeholders, but also to those who will be responsible for making things work further down the line, both internally and externally to the organisation.
So what are the implications for managers who wish to develop their own teams? Clearly the traditional ‘internal’ focus of goals, roles, team behaviours and team ways of working are a vital basis for building a team. However, this is only half of the solution. Managers also need to identify and build relationships with others both internal and external to the organisation. Managers should challenge themselves and their team by asking: Who does the team need support from? Who else has a stake in what our team does? Who might need to know about what we are doing? By doing this, as researchers have identified, managers can cultivate the type of environment that will make their teams more successful.