J. Allan McCarthy: Building A Better Corporate Team

12357_mccarthy_potw_0911 J. Allan McCarthy: Building A Better Corporate Team PERSON OF THE WEEK: The baseball legend Babe Ruth once remarked, ‘The way a team plays as a whole determines its success.’ In the business world, corporate teams that fail to work well together rarely share success. To understand how to build and maintain a cohesive corporate team, MortgageOrb spoke with J. Allan McCarthy, principal of the consulting group McCarthy & Affiliates LLC and author of the book ‘Beyond Genius, Innovation & Luck: The 'Rocket Science' of Building High-Performance Corporations.’

Q: You've written that within companies, a ‘team of leaders behaves very differently than a group of leaders.’ What is the difference between the two?

McCarthy: Two conditions must exist for a team to form: a common goal or objective, and one or more interdependencies. I like to use the ‘foxhole mentality’ metaphor to describe this state: one person has the gun, one person has the bullets and both are in a foxhole that is being charged by the enemy. If either doesn't perform the assigned task, both die.

Now, that's a situation where teaming had better work and have undisputed objectives and interdependencies. It follows that if a leadership entity doesn't have common goals and objectives and clear interdependencies, then it is not a team. It is simply a group with the label of a team.

Using titles such as ‘C-level team,’ ‘top team,’ ‘executive team’ and ‘leadership team’ may sound great, but it doesn't guarantee that a high-performing team is functioning behind the name. So it is common to find many ‘executive teams,’ in reality, performing more as ‘executive groups’ – but there aren't clear interdependencies. Common goals and objective exist – or are certainly implied in the organization's purpose – but it's obvious to the casual observer that members of the executive group function fairly independently and in individual silos most of the time. This is a productivity killer.

Q: In the popular 2011 film ‘Moneyball,’ baseball coach Billy Beane picked his players based on analysis and evidence, rather than gut feeling. This worked in baseball, but how can this approach be adapted to a corporate setting, where analysis and evidence of abilities and previous accomplishments are less easy to judge?

McCarthy: Let the statistics tell the story here. Bristol University, a top-rated British academic institution, conducted research into the effectiveness of different selection methods. The four techniques notated as more effective were assessment centers (68%), structured interviews (63%), work-related tests (55%) and ability tests (54%).

The bottom four techniques – which are ubiquitous in business hiring protocol, I might add – that were found to be less effective were bio-data analysis (38%), personality tests (38%), unstructured interviews (15%) and references (12%). The research also showed that a combination of the effective methods yields the best results.

How many organizations are capable of administering one or more of the top four effective techniques? Few. But many companies are simply not equipped for effective hiring. Many hiring models are based on inaccurate assumptions.

Q: How can corporate teams handle someone who fancies himself as being a team captain rather than a team player?

McCarthy: The simple answer is this: the team leader needs to assert his or her position and authority to keep things in control, and make sure that all team members know their respective roles. Of course, high performing teams are extremely collaborative in nature, and it would be difficult for the casual observer to immediately pick out the leader in the room. However, leadership and decision protocol needs to be clear.

An evolved team should not only have clear objectives, interdependencies and a decision-making process, but also accountabilities. I've found that an effective team-building process will ultimately create an environment where aberrant behavior is not tolerated and where team members are trained to deal with behavior that reduces team effectiveness in a professional manner. This kind of team environment also creates a self-selecting atmosphere, meaning that team members that don't work together well will begin to feel uncomfortable in the team setting and leave on their own accord.

Q: Conversely, how do teams deal with individuals who are either repeatedly making mistakes or not making a serious effort to do what is best for the company?

McCarthy: As already noted, evolved teams tend to self-correct team members that don't conform or pull their weight. That said, it is the purpose and responsibility of the team leader to make sure that each and every team member is performing and carrying his or her share of the load. As the saying goes, ‘One bad apple spoils the bunch.’ One poor performing team member can compromise productivity, morale, and trust and respect of leadership if left unattended.

Q: From the team players' perspective, how can they deal in a setting where their captain(s) either appear to be clueless to dynamic changes in business or are just plain incompetent?

McCarthy: Captains or executives generally have access to broader and deeper information. This means that many times, the captain that appears clueless might just be doing the right thing, but is poor at communicating.

But assuming that the captain is clueless or incompetent, this is where team members need to hone their ‘managing-up’ skill set. Persistence, a data driven approach, and understanding the timing and message content needed to get through all are necessary with attempting to influence someone in a position of authority higher than oneself.

Additionally, there is a saying, ‘Others do a saint's work’ – meaning that the best approach to influencing an incompetent boss is through the power and influence of others. So, using one influence network becomes vital.

Also, sometimes the best that one can do is let go of the altruism and just find another job with a better leader. Statistically, people join companies and will stay even if the company is not doing well, as long as they work for a good manager – one that helps with career development. After all, there is no loyalty to a poor manager.


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