High-performance teams are not only desirable in achieving innovation and speed – they are essential.
However, most companies underestimate or overlook the benefit and opportunity that come from high-
performance teams. In our work with world-class technology companies, high-performance teams are,
quite frankly, part of their DNA and contribute to their competitive advantage. There are many
examples of dysfunctional teams that have heroically pushed products over the finish line, but what
many do not acknowledge is the opportunity cost of sub-optimal team performance, both in hard costs
(delayed revenue, higher product costs, and higher support costs for low-quality products that reach
customers) and soft costs (poor product reviews, lack of innovation, team fatigue, and low morale).
We have identified four steps for creating high-performance teams that you can implement across your
organization. If you are ready to incorporate high-performance teams as part of your company’s DNA
and look forward to seeing a measurable improvement in your ability to quickly innovate and deliver
winning products to market, here are the things you should do:
Create well-defined roles and responsibilities for the cross-functional team
Defining team roles and responsibilities seems like a trivial task that is more bureaucratic than useful.
But the lack of clarity around cross-functional deliverables and dependencies is a key driver in missed
opportunities to reduce cycle time. Especially as companies grow in size and expand geographically, a
critical characteristic of high-performance teams is well-defined roles and responsibilities. Having clarity
around “who is doing what by when” will free up teams to focus on the work required to innovate and
deliver products to market. The chapter “Avoiding Gaps Across Functions” provides a tool for graphically
defining key deliverables for the cross-functional teams by development phase. This tool will allow you
to clarify what your team will deliver in each phase and will help you anticipate and plan for longer-term
deliverables. You may also want to consider creating a Team Wheel for each project (from the chapter
“Ensuring Project Teams Are Properly Staffed”) to clarify roles at the project level as well.
Implement a core-team model
Implementing a core-team model is the most effective way to optimize a project team’s performance
and ensure that the broader team (often called the extended team) is functioning efficiently. It is
particularly critical when the team is large and geographically dispersed. The core-team model consists
of four to six functional leads, typically from project management, product management, engineering,
design, manufacturing, and quality assurance. They share the responsibility of delivering the project
within the defined objectives, while the ultimate responsibility rests with the project manager. With an
emphasis on strong leadership skills, the team can serve as an effective nucleus for driving execution,
escalating project issues, and managing cross-functional dependencies. This core team, which meets on
a frequent basis, is responsible for communicating to the extended team, which is either geographically
isolated or in secondary functions.
Empower the core team with a high level of authority
Many times, executives are hesitant to give teams too much leeway in project decision making, and
teams are reluctant to accept the responsibility. In world-class companies, we see a consistent trend of
pushing a high level of authority to teams. If you set a culture of team accountability across your
organization and empower your team to drive daily decision making in support of the overall objectives
of the project, you will see measurable gains in their ability to
creatively innovate and shorten cycle time. While there are some
circumstances where an autocratic leadership is appropriate,
we’ve found that, if you use it as the norm, it will result over time
in lower accountability, de-motivated teams, and delays.
In addition to utilizing a core-team model with well-defined roles
and responsibilities, implementing the tools of Product
Innovation Process, Boundary Conditions Diagram, and Out-of-
Bounds Check will allow you to manage to a framework that
defines the boundaries of the team’s decision-making authority. Lastly, driving responsibility to the team
is a strategic investment in attracting the best talent. High-performance teams consist of high
performers – both individually and as a team. High performers thrive on accountability, so, if you push
accountability to the team, you will attract the best people in a short period of time.
Create a culture of trust and collaboration
Teams can only achieve high performance if they work in an environment of trust and collaboration.
Anything less means that individuals will shift their focus from the common good to their own survival. A
true test is examining what happens in your organization when bad things happen. When the schedule is
going to slip, a quality issue has stopped the manufacturing line, or the product cost is exceeding the
margin target, how does your organization respond? Teams achieve high performance when they know
they can deliver bad news (with recommendations for resolution) free of politics and without gaming
the data or sugarcoating the message. They achieve high performance because they work in an
environment that addresses challenges through collaboration and teamwork. They focus on solving the
problem, not finding the guilty and blaming them. And, because you’ve instilled the authority and trust
in them, they do this far faster than those teams that work in an environment of distrust and blame.
High-performance teams will create a competitive advantage. In the end, your ability to rapidly innovate
and deliver products to market is in the hands of your people, and the best way we have found to
harness the best of people is through high-performance teams.
© 2012. John Carter & Jeanne Bradford. All rights reserved but reprints are
welcomed so long as the excerpt is used intact with all links made live.
This excerpt from the book "Innovate Products Faster – Graphical Tools for
Accelerating Product Development" was written by John Carter and Jeanne
Bradford. John is a Principal of TCGen, Inc. and serves on the Board of Cirrus Logic.
Jeanne is a Principal of TCGen, Inc. and has delivered products for some of the
industry's best technology companies. You can learn more about the authors and
buy the book at http://www.tcgen.com/book/