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Tools to Diagnose Team Health

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Want to Be a More Effective Leader? Become a Diagnostician.

Configuring teams with the right makeup of skills and complementary traits is critical to an organization's success. UC Berkeley Executive Education faculty director Homa Bahrami discusses how leaders can think more strategically about designing effective teams.

"Now, more than ever, teams are the key building block for any organization," says Professor Homa Bahrami, senior lecturer at Haas School of Business and faculty director for Boot Camp for Experienced Leaders. Bahrami's perspective has been shaped by decades of research into and consulting for Silicon Valley and international companies. For over 30 years, she's witnessed organizational design strategy go from a top-down org charts, to team-based networks. The reason for this shift? A rapidly changing, technology driven and globalised world, which requires fluidity of skills and flexible teams that are dispersed geographically. “No individual on their own has the knowledge or the capacity to drive major activities,” Bahrami says. "Today we need to think about teams as the key driver of organizational success."

However, many managers are still hardwired with the notion of the formal, individualized, top-down organizational structure. But even well-established or older organizations can benefit from taking a more fluid approach to configuring their teams for adaptive success in the VUCA world. Individual skillsets remain important, but, Bahrami notes, it’s the unique dynamics within teams that are also critical for ultimate success.

"When you look at a team, you have to think about it as a living entity," she says. "That's why you cannot think about organizational success without thinking about how you configure your teams, how you evolve your teams, how you monitor the team's vital health signs on an ongoing basis."

Based on her research, Bahrami has devised a team diagnostic that is made of three key building blocks:

  1. Anatomy: This is the scaffolding or skeleton of a team, "strategic goals, critical priorities, roles and responsibilities of team members, and key success metrics." Anatomy is the component most managers singularly prioritize when hiring and developing their teams -- the roles and responsibilities of individual managers. 
  2. Circulation: The tangible ways teams communicate and collaborate with each other -- particularly critical for teams who are distributed across different regions and timezones. "Do they have common tools and templates that they use to keep each other informed? What is their approach to resolving conflict? How do they strive to create shared reality? Circulation is especially critical if you have a distributed team that is not co-located, because you do not have the informal interaction opportunities at the watercooler, in the car park, during lunch."
  3. Personality: How the team’s individual “traits” come together to form its culture and behavioral norms. “It’s really about the chemistry between the team members,” says Bahrami. “How do they deal with conflict, for example. How they deal with setbacks, how they make decisions, how they support each other and form a foundation of trust."

Bahrami emphasizes that there is no singular "magic formula" for teams, and that leaders' energies are best spent as diagnosticians who regularly assess the health and effectiveness of their team. To support managers in their role as diagnosticians, Bahrami developed a set of tools for leaders and members to assess vital health signs on a regular basis. "The 'A-Ha!' moment really comes when they see the gap between what their assessment of the team's health is and their team member’s assessment," Bahrami says. "It's the equivalent of someone going for their annual check-up and finding out that their blood sugar has really increased and saying, 'Wow. I had no idea. I thought I was eating well, I was keeping my cholesterol in check.'"

Professor Bahrami applies these diagnostic tools in her consultancy work and in the classroom at UC Berkeley Executive Education. Learn from her in either the New Manager Boot Camp. Watch the full interview with Professor Bahrami.

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