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      Virtuoso Teams

“Convene the elite of your company for a world changing project and you have a virtuoso team.
Talent, energy, ambitions, intensity, ego, risk – these teams have it all in spades. And they play
by a different set of rules.”

          Andy Boynton

          Co-author “Virtuoso Teams: Lessons from Teams That Changed Their Worlds”

HarSimran Kaur Sangha


                            INTRODUCTION- The Need of Stars

                             VIRTUOSO TEAMS- The Definition


                       WORKING STYLE: How do the Stars work?


                 VIRTUOSO’S GEARS IN WORK: Theory to Practical


                MANAGING VIRTUOSO TEAMS: Risks & Challenges


                  THE DARK SIDE OF VIRTUOSO TEAMS - Failures






We would like to acknowledge our faculty guide, Dr. C S Shylajan, for mentoring us
throughout the project by constantly showing us the benefits of linking practice and
theory, which indeed helped us in analyzing a lot many real life examples and hereby
successfully compiling them .

Thanks to all our brainstorming project mates, who, if not the answers, were always
ready with their counter questions. Without this the intricacies of the topic could not
have been explored. Thanks to all the fellow students for extending their help and
support whenever required, and who constantly inspired us of raising the bar.


The nineties witnessed the gradual downfall of a communication giant – Motorola.
Motorola had been branded as “stodgy and engineering driven”. Nokia and Ericsson were
turning out to be “Achilles heel”, but competitors like Samsung and LG, also outpacing
Motorola, seriously challenged the very existence of Motorola. The competition grew
exponentially in terms of aggressiveness and smartness but Motorola seemed to be just
growing weaker and bleaker.
The prime agenda: How to pull back Motorola from the doldrums of failure?
Solution: The inception of the RAZR team – a team on a mission, headed by Roger Jellicose,
brought into the market the ultra slim MotoRazr, which single handedly steered Motorola
back in the game, in just a fortnight.

In July 2000, the biggies were not able to get what the kiddies did. The undoomed pirates of
the internet world, Bill Gates and Steve Balmer were not able to perceive the importance of
internet for the 13-24 year old genres. But Tammy Savage, a manager in business
development, correctly perceived internet to be the lifeline for youngsters of the age group
13-24, who are online even before having their morning coffee.
The target market has been identified, and the solution seems to be blatant – A software
targeted for the 13-24 age group. But Bill Gates does not seem to be influenced much with
idea and is hesitant in funding for the project.
The prime agenda: The idea if implemented is sure to create ripples, but how to make the
world see the world with the eyes of a revolutionary?
Solution: The inception of the NetGen team, headed by Tammy Savage, which successfully
innovated the software “threedegree” and incorporated it with MSN messenger.

Success today is directly proportional to the ability to innovate. But innovation alone does
not do wonders. Real success depends on putting innovations to productive and profitable
use. And this needs to be done not just once but again and again.
Hereby is the inception of the Virtuoso team, who sits on the hot seat and takes on the
responsibility to add on a new chapter of knowledge for the masses. For sustainable
innovation, a team is needed who does not follow the market knowledge, but creates the
market knowledge. And no normal team can do this.

VIRTUOSO TEAMS - The Definition

                               “TEAMS WHO ROW TO SUCCESS”

In this era of globalization where competitive survival hinges on new products and ideas,
what changes the course of an organization is Radical Innovation. And that is when a team
with an explicit mission to change the world comes into picture – A Virtuoso Team - An
unconventional team of revolutionaries, who are catalysts for big change. A team called
upon to take on a leadership stand to innovate change and most importantly create the
change. And who does it all? The Virtuosos – members of a Virtuoso team, who are
specialists in their field of work and are especially handpicked. After all for a great
performance, we need to get started with great people. A strong skill set, individualism and
willingness to dive into big challenges, even at the risk of career, is what truly defines the
Virtuoso team member instinct. Mediocrity and compromise, find no place in this team.

       It’s a place where the best competes with the best and only the best survives.

Right from the inception of the team to member selection and team dynamics, Virtuoso
teams play a different ball game.

                          Thinking is more important than doing.
                          Causes are more important than blame.
                  Creative pandemonium is in and group consensus is out.

 These teams operate by the rules that are almost antithetical to conventional teamwork.

WORKING STYLE: How do the Stars work?

Radical innovation and generating breakthrough ideas is just one side of the coin of the
Virtuoso teams. The ability to make the world realize that a change can be brought in is
what makes a Virtuoso team a class apart.


 • Discover                                                      • Feedback
                                 • Design
       Explore                                                          Export

This three phase approach provides a template to help Virtuoso team members sequence
their core tasks of Sensemaking, visioning, relating, and inventing by shifting their focus
over time from observation and understanding to action.

              Fierce brainstorming = Creative pandemonium.
              High external activity.
              Get the ego war started.

Intensive and collective brainstorming on expectations, threats and opportunities is done
by the team members. A pressure cooker environment builds up and this is the time when
group consensus is out and individuals are in. Creative pandemonium – this is how a
Virtuoso team can be described at this phase. The team leader levitates the situation by
pushing the team members to the extremes and sometimes beyond extremes too. This ego
game is the basic instinct of a virtuoso team and is the driving force behind the

breakthrough result which a virtuoso team delivers. Sooner or later the members break
through their egocentrism and become a plurality with a single minded focus on the goal.





Making sense of the context in which organization is operating – being the eyes that read
the opportunities and threats of a changing environment. Connecting internally, as well as
externally. Mapping customer needs, cultural norms, competitive challenges technological
advances, and market opportunities to have a wholesome view of the current environment.
a traditional team would also do this before getting down to work, but what sets a Virtuoso
team to be different is the level of mapping done and the implementation of various
permutations and combinations used to get this mapping done.


This involves developing key relationships within and across the organizations and
bringing commitment and energy to the task. Virtuoso team members are not shy of
expressing their views as a result of which the integrative meetings of Virtuoso team
members result in a creative pandemonium. This “trust” developed as a result of effective
relating is very essential to understand divergent views and opinions and effectively
advocate the disappointed advocates.

               Extreme Execution – divergent to convergent
               Rapid Prototyping

Extreme Execution and Rapid Prototyping bolster the Exploit strategy of Virtuoso Teams.
Once a considerable amount of energy has been spent on determining what’s out there, it’s
time to transform ideas into reality. The shift is from divergent thinking in multiple
directions to convergence and commitment to one. Regular email and phone style of work
is out. Integrated face-to-face meetings, which actually are like war rooms for sharing
knowledge and generally extend over long periods of time, become the code of conduct for
the team. The physical proximity of team members results in super fast prototyping and
ensures that the right messages get to the right people.





From “What is” to “What is possible” is what visioning all about. It’s about creating a
                            future.                                        action, values,
compelling picture of the future It is about articulating parameters of acti
priorities and direction. Keeping the vision in mind, the virtuoso team members have the
freedom to run their horses on never trodden paths.

Coming up with new ways to realize a vision, is what inventing is all about.


This is the most important phase where the feedback and implementation of the idea
The major challenge becomes moving from the world of ideas and possibilities into the
world of reality and focus. By the end of a successful exploration phase, there is a set of
people committed to the team, who develop patterns of interaction within the team, and
the product or project that the team has been working is put on trial.


First the teams organize themselves to examine the world around them, think in new
directions, and consider multiple options (exploration). Then the team chooses one
direction (which is on the basis of merit) and organizes themselves for effective action and
implementation. By the end of a successful exploration phase, there is a set of people
committed to the team, patterns of interaction within the team have been developed, and
the product or project that the team has been working on has been investigated and
defined. Hopefully, team members have discussed that the team’s goals are feasible and
they can work together to meet those goals. If the team has done the external work well,
then this phase also results in a set of external relationship that can help adapt to its
environment and get the information, expertise, and support it needs. Then the major
challenge becomes moving from the world of ideas and possibilities into the world of
reality and focus. Not every team makes it.

VIRTUOSO’S GEAR IN WORK: Theory to Practical

                 TALENT                                        EGO




“In many ways, the idea behind the Razr team was nothing new. At its heart, it’s really not
much more than a very smart mobile phone. But no one had ever been able to develop a phone
anywhere near as small or as slick as the Razr”
                                                                  -         Roger Jellicose
                                                  Director of Operations, Team Razr

The nineties witnessed the gradual downfall of a communication juggernaut – Motorola.
Motorola was tagged as “stodgy and engineering driven”. The competition seemed to be
become smarter and aggressive, while Motorola seemed to be just growing weaker and
The prime agenda now was to pull back Motorola from the doldrums of failure.
Along came the RAZR team – a team on a mission. The team consisted of some of the best
developers at Motorola, and was headed by Roger Jellicose.


As the process of inception to conception proceeded for the team RAZR, hurdles were
bound to come. The vision of the team was to come up with a design of a sleek and slim
phone, never seen before.
The team faced technical glitches while designing, like the placement of the antenna that
sends and receives the radio signals. The antenna had to placed at such a position so the
looks of the phone are not astray from what is demanded. The other technical problem
faced by the team was to mount the camera in the smallest of area.

Setting up a completely new system for manufacturing and marketing in the system was
not an easy task. But the team RAZR exhibited excellent task-coordination features and by
figuring out the interdependencies, and making some compromises, RAZR pulled it off.

Extensive external work was done by the team members. As per the external activity, the
team members contacted as many experts and industry sources as possible outside
Motorola and collected pallets of ideas. Clubbing these external ideas with their own
innovations, the team members came up with their own solutions.
    Collectively an effective solution had not been drafted and none of those ideas was a
                                       complete solution
Team leader Roger Jellicose put together a sketch based on the various ideas by all the
team members and called a meeting. When novel ideas were put together, the team got a
common solution to work on and henceforth the team worked on to embellish the sorted
out solution.
 This illustrates both the hazards of group thinking and the fact that innovation can
sometimes move forward only when ideas are evaluated in combination rather than in


“Razr was capable of taking important decisions based on merit rather than on the seniority
of the champion of any given alternative. For truly merit – based decisions, participation of all
concerned parties is the key.”                                          - Roger Jellicose

The integrative meetings resulted in ten different blueprints to evaluate for the tricky issue
of the antenna placement. Intense discussions and many disappointed advocates, had to be
there, but in the end everyone who had put sweat equity into finding a solution got a say in
the final decision. Interestingly, the winning formula – an ingenious solution that placed the
antenna in the mouthpiece – was proposed by one of the most junior members of the team,
a 32 year old engineer named Tadd Scarpelli.


The Razr team stands as an embodiment of a successful virtuoso team where all the three
major principles of virtuoso teams (Explore – Exploit- Export) stand justified.
with individuals and groups inside and outside to get feedback, indentify critical resources,
and convince and cajole others to help get the task done


           Traditional Teams                           Virtuoso Teams
Choose members for availability            Choose members for skills
  • Assign members according to the          • Insist on hiring only those with the
      individual’s availability and past         best skills, regardless of the
      experience with the problem.               individuals familiriaty with the
  • Fill in the team as needed.                  problem.
                                             • Recruit specialists for each position
                                                 on the team.
Emphasize the collective                   Emphasize the individual
  • Repress individual egos.                 • Celebrate the individual egos and
  • Encourage the members to get along.          elicit the best from each team
  • Choose a solution based on                   member.
     consensus.                              • Encourage members to compete, and
  • Assure that efficiency triumphs              create opportunities for solo
     creativity.                                 performances.
                                             • Choose a solution based on merit.
                                             • Assure that creativity triumphs.

Focus on tasks                             Focus on Ideas
   • Complete critical tasks on time.         • Generate a frequent and rich flow of
   • Get the project done on time.               ideas among team members.
                                              • Find and express the breakthrough
                                                 idea on time.

Work individually and remotely             Work together and intensively
  • Require individual members to            • Force members into close physical
      complete tasks on their own.               proximity.
  • Allow communication via email,           • Force members to work together at a
      phone, and weekly meetings.                fast pace.
  • Encourage polite conversations.          • Force direct dialog without sparing

Address the average customer                Address the sophisticated customer
  • Attempt to reach the broadest             • Attempt to surprise customers by
      possible customer base; appeal to the       stretching their expectations;
      average.                                • Appeal to the sophisticated.
  • Base decisions on established market      • Defy established market knowledge.
      knowledge.                              • Reject common stereotypes.
  • Affirm common stereotypes.


Most companies avoid getting a bunch of such elicit people with big egos and strong wills
on a team, for a simple reason that it creates friction and conflicts in the team. That is why
they pick up people with sufficient experience, who can work in harmony—people that will
get along.

Not every project deserves a virtuoso team, but every organization has some projects that

“I” Vs “We”
In virtuoso teams, individual players energize each other and stimulate ideas with frequent,
intense, face-to-face conversations and brainstorming sessions for long hours.
All members of our star-power team being experts in their field have an ego to satisfy. They
are at times considered to be too elitist, temperamental, egocentric and difficult to work
with. The biggest challenge in putting together such a team is fighting the “I” factor. All of
these talented players in virtuoso teams have enormous egos and greedy ambition. When
virtuoso teams begin their work, individuals are in and group consensus is out. How to
motivate, direct and drive such a pool of talent towards a common goal needs a Virtuoso
Leader: From “I” to “We”. The members of the team are frequently contentious and always
less comfortable, but if you can pull together the right people and manage them in the right
way, the results can be extraordinary. That is why leaders of virtuoso teams need to take
different kinds of roles and use different management tools.

A virtuoso leader is a conduit of ideas from the outside. A supremely self-confident person
with a let go attitude and a drive and willingness to get there is what sets a virtuoso leader


       Listen Rather Than Tell The team members might know things which the leader
       might not know. So effectively listening to these virtuosos should be the first thing
       which the virtuoso team leader should focus on.
       Idea Collaboration not hoarding – the leader should focus on creating a space
       where faster and richer idea sharing can take place, with every team member being
       provided his/her own space.
       Challenge the idea not the person- Virtuoso team members are usually have a high
       self esteem and satisfaction comes to them not with money, but with appreciation.
       Instead of commenting “Your idea was bad”, say “the performance was not up to the
       mark with the rest. You can do better.”

      Remains firm and focused on timelines – This is one of the most efficient ways to
      control a Virtuoso team. As a team leader, during integrative meetings, keep a firm
      stand as to how much time each member gets to speak.
      Create an Environment where interactions and conversations occur regularly.
      Allow Individuals to Remain Individuals.

Eventually, each team member understands that if the team failed, he would fail too. This
keeps any of them from developing an entrenched sense of idea ownership. A leader can
transform the team from a collection of egocentric individuals into one great totality. And
when virtuoso teams are in action with the correct mindset and attitude, impassioned
dialogue becomes the critical driver of performance, not the work itself. The inescapable
physical proximity of team members ensures that the right messages get to the right
people—fast. As a result, virtuoso teams operate at a pace that is many times the speed of
normal project teams.


Clash of the Titans: Cricket Super Series 2005 between Australia XI and Rest
of the World XI.
The ICC Super Series 2005 was a cricket series played in Australia in October 2005 and
featuring some of the world's best cricketers. There were two teams playing: Australia, the
world's ranked number one side, and an ICC World XI made up of some of the best non-
Australian cricketers in the world. While the matches themselves attracted reasonable
interest and television viewing, small crowds and a pathetic performance by the World XI
led to the entire Super Series concept being taken back to the drawing board by the ICC.
Many believed that the Super Series was a bad idea in the first place due to the lack of
cooperation and coordination between the Rest of the World players. For example, former
Australian captain Allan Border said: "I firmly believe that this status should be restricted
to matches between national sides. Test cricket is an institution that has been built up over
a period of 128 years, and it should not be tampered with". Other cricket pundits termed
this series as historic.World renowned players like Rahul Dravid, Brian Lara, Muthhiah
Muralidharan, Inzamam, Shoaib Akhtar, Sehwag were some the stars included in the Rest of
the world team.While the team Australia had regular Aussie side comprising of Ponting,
Symonds, Clarke, Lee etc. The result showed the flipside of the all star team concept i.e. the
VIRTUOSO TEAM. The rest of the world team collapsed badly to the hands of Australia XI
which won comprehensively in all the 3 ODIs. The last one day saw World XI bundled out
for 137 in 28 over’s. Much to the shame of World XI, it again lost to Australia XI in the Test
Match also.

Rock bands – Why do they break up?
Many aspiring teenagers and budding rockers fantasize of forming a great rock band. But
those who have actually attempted to form one soon learn the underlying truths about
working in such a high tension team i.e. a virtuoso team. A successful rock band requires
dedicated efforts from all of its members and only a few bands survive the first formative
years completely unaffected.

Here are some of the reasons why do the rock bands actually break up:

Personal tastes and preferences: These should be duly taken into consideration into the set
selection process. For example, your jazz influenced guitarist would want a solo piece to be
included in the mix formed. If another band member is unhappy because the music formed
does not suit his individual style, you may be better off without that disruptive influence.

Individual careers: There may be some cases where an individual member is so amazingly
brilliant that it would be the envy of millions and a must want for every other band. As a

matter of fact, it is this individual only that becomes the cause of the break up. Rock bands
constitute a fine balance of egos and abilities which is a real hard thing to maintain over the
time when one member becomes the centre of attraction and attention than the rest.

Artistic Differences: This is one of the major aspect as to why rock bands fail to continue
after their initial hysteria. Band members who gain expertise at their own art get
complacent and start having superiority complex, leading to them finding faults or
problems with the rest of the members’ area of work. For example, the original
compositions written by the lyricist of the band appear too simplistic or the guitarist is
playing the same tunes which are no longer commercially feasible.

Ego clashes: “I” aspect rule the minds of the band members which eventually leads to the
disintegration of the band.

Virtuoso teams pull the best people out of their everyday jobs and provide them with a
broader view of the firm so that they can fully comprehend the complexity of making
change happen and do their part. Virtuoso teams provide the organizations with the ability
to experiment with new procedures and initiatives to see what works and what does not.
These teams demonstrate distributed leadership and action while enabling alignment of
leadership activities up and down the hierarchy and across organizational boundaries.
Choosing to create a virtuoso team in an organization will challenge everyone- from
individual team members involved to top management of the organization as a whole.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”
the famous American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said. “Indeed, it is the only thing
that ever has” this is the essential message and truth behind Virtuoso Teams.

  1. “X-teams” by Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman
  2. BBC Sport, Article “Super Series Snore”
  3. Harvard Business Review Case –“Can Superstars Play the Team Game?”
  4. Ebsco Online Database
  5. D. Carpenter,Associated Press, “Razr, Design, Push, Remake Motorola Stodgy image”.

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