Teams are central to how we work. Most of us work on teams. In fact, most of us work on several teams at any one time. How people get assigned to teams is a critical to performance.

At TeamFit we do a lot of research into this. We dig into how different companies choose people for teams and the results have been surprising. In many companies the selection of people for teams is arbitrary, determined by availability and ad-hoc impressions about skills, or based on who has worked together before, regardless of success.

Ask yourself,

  1. At my company, who is responsible for choosing people for teams?
  2. What information is available to support their decisions?
  3. What metrics are kept on how team composition impacts team performance?

Who is responsible for choosing people for teams?

The way people are chosen for teams sets corporate culture.

The key themes

In some companies this is primarily an administrative function. The drivers are availability and the need to optimize utilization. Suitability, diversity, chemistry are given lip service at best. And the impact of poor team composition only becomes an issue when there is a failure: high levels or rework, angry customers, higher levels of repeat work.

Team allocation can also be ‘managed’ as a scramble, with project managers working to build the best teams for their own purposes and senior staff making sure that their protégés get on the best projects. In its crude form, this approach does not scale though a few companies are experimenting with social software or market mechanizes to make this work.

The best practice is to make an experienced consultant responsible for allocations. We have uncovered two approaches to this. The most common is to have people who have stepped off the consulting path, often for family reasons, take on this responsibility. Intriguing, but less common, are those companies that see resource or allocation management as a rotational assignment for consultants, who after a tour of duty in this role (often 2-3 years) are sent back into the field. At one growing management consulting firm, with about 600 consultants, one must spend time in resource management to reach the top rungs of the company. That makes a strong statement to ambitious young consultants.

Whatever approach is taken, the goal has to be more than just filling slots and optimizing utilization. The team builder has to look for the right mix of skills, a certain diversity, and find people who will work effectively together. Consultants are looking to work at companies that help them fulfill their potential. They want to work on different types of projects and apply not just their proven skills but their aspirational skills.

What information is available to support decisions?

Most companies rely on tribal knowledge when assigning people to teams.

A few quotes from recent conversations …

“We all know what each other are good at.” (COO at a 70-person systems integrator)

Do you, really?

“Jim has been here a long time and knows what people do and what kinds of people we need on teams.” (VP Engineering at a 700-person consulting engineering firm)

I hope Jim has no plans to retire, and that the Jims in your different lines of business and across different locations know how and when to talk to each other.

“I have a list in my mind of who works well with each other and the people I don’t want on the same team.” (CEO at 120-person systems integration firm)

Do other people have the same lists I wonder?

In today’s team-centric world, companies need to invest in understanding the skills of all the people in their talent networks and make this information available to the people tasked with building project teams. Failure to do so puts companies at risk.

Team Metrics

One key form of information is metrics. We have all been regaled with stories of how sports team managers like Billie Bean of Moneyball fame has used metrics to find under-valued players and piece together exceptional teams that have punched way above their weight (as measured by total player salary).

To win in a team of teams world companies are going to need much better metrics on their teams and how people fit into them.

At TeamFit, we have algorithms for SkillRank™, TeamMatch™ and TeamFit™.

SkillRank is a measure of a person’s strength on a specific skill. The algorithm weighs information from many sources. The most important is how teammates rate a person on a skill. It is co-workers, and not the person themselves or managers who have the most insight into actual skills. The trick is to find ways around people’s reluctance to rate each other and the distortions introduced by team dynamics.

TeamMatch measures how well an individual meets a team’s needs based on who else is already on the team.

TeamFit is our most important metric. It is a measure of how well a team as a whole meets its requirements. You can use it to see the impact of changing team members and growing team skills. Our goal is to grow TeamFit into a prediction of team success.

Individuals sign up here for free

Companies, contact us to learn how we can help you make sure you have the skills to deliver on your strategy.