UK: TOOLS TO FINE-TUNE A TEAM. - Helps is at hand to find the perfect composition of a group.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Helps is at hand to find the perfect composition of a group.

This is the age of the multifunctional team. Countless business have been starting up such teams frequently granting them wide executive powers to manage major projects and, above all, to act as a spearhead of "change". The trouble is that all too often teams don't perform with to expectations. This could be the fault of the company rather than the team.

Naturally, senior managers will want to be convinced that each of their teams is equipped with a range of skills as experience appropriate to its task. Human resources advisers may also try to ensure that it is composed of compatible people, one with another. They may consult Myers Briggs's US model or possibly glance back at Belbin. (Meredith Belbin, Britain's leading guru on teamwork, is best known for prescribing the composition of a well-balanced team: it would be a gross error to appoint several "shapers" all pushing for action - for example, and no "plant" to contribute original thought.) However, Belbin's dramatis personae are not universally accepted by psychologists. They also leave largely to judgment the question of whether someone is naturally a "plant", say, or "monitor evaluator" or other animal.

In practice few organisations make any normal, objective, attempt to analyse teams in terms of skills, personality and roles, maintains Sue Childs, a projects specialist at PA Consulting Group. Indeed, some companies make a deliberate decision not to assess personalities when setting up teams, lest the individuals concerned should feel themselves threatened. Yet "if attention is not given to their composition, then it can be very hard to get teams to work", warns Julie Baddeley, head of change management at Anderson Consulting. Functions such as marketing, operations and finance tend to breed disparate types, she points out. So although there may be a god fit in logistical terms - when all three are represented in a team - it will be necessarily result in much productive interaction. On the contrary, it might defeat the team's main purposes: which are to exploit creativity and compensate for individual deficiencies.

There are numbers of proprietary instruments on the market specifically designed to measure the effectiveness of teams. NFC House Moving Services - Europe, which takes in Pickfords in the UK, has been using a Harvard-designed tool called Symlog. Based on a questionnaire, this sets out to rate teams - and individuals within them - in terms of their teamworking abilities. Anne Redshaw, the removal group's head of management development, reports that executives deplore the American terminology but endorse the method: "We had one group of very cynical young men. They were never so silent as after the feedback."

Presenting the tool as a lubricant and diagnostic aid, Dr Lance Lindon of Sundridge Park management centre (Symlog's UK agent) admits that this is not a predictor, so cannot be used for picking teams. Claims of oracular powers are made for MAP (motivation and action profile) developed in the UK by The Thornhill Consultancy of Nottingham. MAP is said to reveals aspects of "core personality" which remain relatively stable throughout a person's life. Is he or she full of "asserting energy" and keen on getting things done, for instance, or merely interested in the way a job is performed? This information, obtained by objective means, should allow a balanced team to come together in which everyone is aware of his own special strengths - and those of his fellows.

Some MAP users are devotees. "It's amazing how accurate it is," enthuses Roger Waplington, logistics director of British Gas Retail. Deryk King, general manager, ICI Polyester Intermediaries & Polymers, confesses to reservations about the theory (which has nevertheless been "validated" by US psychologists), but agrees that it works well in practice. "Generally speaking, I'm a great fan," he says. But since the analyses involves a two-hour videotaped interview with each member, MAP is expensive, and only suitable for top teams.

But as Childs of PA Consulting points out, the most critical factor in creating successful teams is not complicated: you just have to make sure that you employ high-calibre staff at the outset.

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