In today's competitive environment, high-performance product development teams are not just nice to have, they are essential for achieving innovation and speed in new product development. There are many examples of dysfunctional teams that have pushed products over the finish line, but the opportunity cost of sub-optimal team performance is rarely acknowledged. Low-performance teams are costly in terms of both hard and soft costs:
There are four steps involved in fostering high-performance teamwork across your organization:
1) Create well-defined roles and responsibilities for the cross-functional team.
It seems obvious that teams would define member roles and responsibilities. However, many teams fail to allocate roles and responsibilities in sufficient depth and clarity, which results in costly delays. Crystal clarity around cross-functional deliverables and dependencies is a key driver of fast cycle time, especially as companies grow in size and expand geographically. Stating clearly who is doing what by when liberates teams to focus on the work required to innovate and deliver products to market.
2) Implement a core-team model.
Core teams are the most effective way to optimize project execution and to ensure that the extended team is functioning efficiently. The core-team approach is especially important when the extended team is large and geographically dispersed. The core-team model consists typically of four to six functional leads:
While the core team shares the responsibility of delivering the project within the defined objectives, the project manager is directly accountable for the project’s success. With an emphasis on strong leadership skills, the team can serve as an effective nucleus that:
3) Empower the core team with a high level of authority.
Executives are often hesitant to give teams too much leeway in project decision-making and teams are reluctant to accept the responsibility. In world-class companies, product development teams assume a high level of authority. If you establish a culture of team accountability across your organization and empower teams to drive daily decision-making in support of the objectives of the project, you will realize measurable gains in innovation and product development speed.
There are some circumstances where autocratic leadership is appropriate. But where it becomes the norm, it results in lower accountability, poorly motivated teams and delays. Implementing "boundary conditions" and using the tool of Out-of-Bounds Check (see Best Practice #1) will allow senior staff to exercise oversight without hampering the team.
4) Create a culture of trust and collaboration.
Absent trust and a collaborative environment, individuals shift their focus from the common good to their own survival. Examine what happens in your organization when challenges arise. When the schedule is going to slip, or a quality issue has stopped the manufacturing line, or the product cost is exceeding the margin target, how does your organization respond?
Teams achieve high performance when they know they can deliver bad news as well as their recommendations for resolving issues, free of politics and without gaming the data or sugarcoating the message. They achieve high performance because they work in an environment that addresses challenges through collaboration and teamwork. They focus on solving the problem, not finding the guilty and blaming them.
Speed and innovation are gained or lost each day at the team level. An organization’s ability to rapidly innovate and deliver products to market is in the hands of your people, and the best way to attract the best talent is through high-performance teams. High-performance teams are part of the DNA of world-class technology companies and contribute to their competitive advantage.