Sharpening Your Skills: Managing Teams

The ability to lead teams is fast becoming a critical skill for all managers in the 21st century. Here are four HBS Working Knowledge stories from the archives that address everything from how teams learn to turning individual performers into team players.

Sharpening Your Skills dives into the HBS Working Knowledge archives to bring together articles on ways to improve your business skills.

Questions To Be Answered

  • How does a team leader win the confidence of the group?
  • What's the best method for developing team goals?
  • How can individual performers be developed into team players?
  • How do teams learn?

How Does A Team Leader Win The Confidence Of The Group?

How Team Leaders Show Support—or Not

What does a team leader do so that employees know they are being supported? A Q&A with HBS professor and creativity expert Teresa Amabile about recent research. Key concepts include:

  • Employees' perceptions of team leader support are more positive when the leader gives timely feedback; supports team member's actions and decisions; recognizes good work privately and publicly; and asks for team members' ideas and opinions.
  • Perceptions of the team leader are more negative when the leader micromanages; provides nonconstructive negative feedback; fails to clarify roles and objectives; and avoids addressing problems.

What's the best method for developing team goals?

When Goal Setting Goes Bad

If you ever wondered about the real value of goal setting in your organization, join the club. Despite the mantra that goals are good, the process of setting beneficial goals is harder than it looks. New research by HBS professor Max H. Bazerman and colleagues explores the hidden cost when stretch goals are misguided. Key concepts include:

  • "Learning or mastery" goals probably lead to better effects than strict "performance" goals.
  • Good people with the best of intentions can focus so much on a stretch goal that they fail to recognize how it leads to unethical behavior and/or excessive risk-taking.
  • Goal setting is easy to implement and measure. But do not underestimate or ignore undesired results.

How Can Individual Performers Be Developed Into Team Players?

HBS Cases: When Good Teams Go Bad

Know when teamwork doesn't work—and how to fix it. Professors Jeff Polzer and Scott Snook teach "The Army Crew Team" case and the dilemma faced by a rowing coach who has great individual parts but can't get them to synchronize. From HBS Alumni Bulletin. Key concepts include:

  • A potentially great team with strong individual contributors can quickly be undone by issues around trust, conflict, team accountability, and intergroup rivalries.
  • In business, competition between groups can provide motivation, but if competition becomes too strong, it can inhibit cooperation and lead to dysfunction.
  • The best teams are those that not only combine the skills of their members to fit the demands of their task, but also energize team members through the bonding that comes with striving toward a common goal.
  • Solutions can include changing team members, but an event to clear the air can help to relieve frustration and resolve conflict.

How Do Teams Learn?

Working Paper: Three Perspectives on Team Learning: Outcome Improvement, Task Mastery, and Group Process

Organizations increasingly rely on teams to carry out critical strategies and operational tasks. How do teams learn, and what factors are most important to team learning? This paper reports on current perspectives and findings that address these questions, looking at empirical studies on team learning from three areas of research: outcome improvement, task mastery, and group process. Overall, Amy Edmondson and coauthors characterize the nature of research to date and assemble what is known and unknown about the theoretically and practically important topic of team learning. Key concepts include:

  • Team learning has value for organizations; learning in teams is seen as a key mechanism through which learning organizations become strategically and operationally adaptive and responsive.
  • How the learning of individual work teams translates into organizational learning is not well understood.
  • Organizations stand to benefit when ideas are cross-fertilized and diverse individuals learn to work together. "Outsiders" can introduce valuable ideas.
  • Learning and execution are often at odds: Learning by its nature involves uncertainty, false starts, and occasional dead ends. Team learning in organizations must be recognized as a strategy for tolerating forays into the unknown.