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Passion, People and Principles

Team Rivalry

post # 5 — January 25, 2006 — a Managing post

I received this question from a client executive:

One division of our private banking unit is 5 years old, with 7 investment directors and 7 client relationship managers. As we grow we are in the process of dividing the 14 people into 3 sub-groups, each with informal team leaders who support me by helping their team members to be motivated, to fulfill their aims and to solve problems.

As we do this, we want to avoid internal competition between the teams. We want members of each team not only to cooperate within their team, but to be supportive of other teams and to have a feeling that we stand for the same purpose. We also wonder how we should measure the teams, the individual team members and the team leaders to accomplish both small-team performance and group-wide collaboration.

When you get big, it may be necessary to have formality and “official” structures, but it is not clear to me why you need it now. Managing 14 people should be possible without official structures and, as you point out, the minute you draw a circle around a group of people, you automatically get less collaboration across boundaries. Always.

So, I would work hard to make the team assignments feel informal. You want mission-oriented teams, not structurally-defined departments. For example, I would not “publicize” or “publish” any official team metrics, but only discuss performance in private with individuals and small teams, making sure that you insist on making judgments, not just sticking to measures.

In private meetings, you can say “The hard numbers look great but people do not give you great praise for collaboration. Both are important to us. Can we discuss ways to improve? Can you tell me what you have done to help others look good, within your team and outside your team?”

Done this way, here will be little opportunity to play games with the system by trying to look good on fixed metrics, individual or team. Again, the rule – for firms and groups large or small – is: “Avoid ANY fixed system of metrics – always make judgments.”

Your people will not like this. Everyone, especially the quantitative types attracted to banking, wants a precise formula as to how they will be measured and compensated. It is always a mistake to give in to this request. There is no quantitative system that cannot be “gamed.” Some firms like to think that financial measures are “objective,” but that’s a delusion. They are not objective if people are making the numbers look good by hoarding work, failing to share and collaborate and thinking of their own metrics. What’s objective about that?

cover of David Maister's book, Managing thice Firm

Something else I would try is to make team assignments short term or temporary – rotate people between the teams as the months and years go by, and make sure everyone knows that this will happen. It will be good for their careers (they will be better advisors for having worked in all our areas) and they will have more opportunities to be close to people who were once team members even if they are not now. People collaborate with individuals they trust, and you need to give them repeated experiences of working together, (I wrote about this in the chapter Creating the Collaborative Firm in Managing the Professional Service Firm)

cover of David Maister's boo What You Preach'

Finally, look at the Nine Case-Studies in my book Practice What You Preach for some wonderful examples of how nine managers got teamwork going and built a sense of community (and made lot of money by doing so.) Among the things they did were:

  • Arrange a series of group days out of the office (picnics, films, shows)
  • Eat lunch together every day as a group.
  • Regularly throw a good office party!
  • Make sure people believe management is not ONLY out to make a lot of money for themselves.
  • Discuss all financials (except salaries) with everyone – open disclosure of how every group is doing.
  • Have a bulletin board where you list everything anyone wants to celebrate either for themselves or for someone else.
  • Ensure everyone knows why a decision is made.
  • Give regular “State of the Union” addresses to the entire firm.
  • Have team leaders meet with you regularly to discuss cross-group issues

Does anyone else have ideas about avoiding cross-group competition?

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