When baking, you know that the right combination of fresh ingredients is critical to a delicious cake. The wrong ingredients can result in a soggy, inedible mess. So, what does baking have to do with high performance work teams? It’s about starting with the right ingredients. We often focus on improving the interactions between team members using interventions such as team development exercises. Focusing on getting the right people in the right combination from the start can have a much greater impact.

Managing teams to success

Instead of waiting and trying to repair teams through team development exercises, you can actively manage teams to be more successful from the start. For example, you can enrich the work itself by giving teams autonomy on how to go about completing a project. You can ensure the team has external support by aligning team goals with the broader organisational reward system. But did you know that you can also strategically staff teams with the ‘right’ number and mix of team members?

Evidence-based strategic staffing

Researchers in team science have rigorously examined what the right mix of team members is. They have found that while technical expertise is important, other team member characteristics are critical for predicting whether or not a team will be high performing.

You may have noticed that one bad apple can spoil the bunch, but did you know research supports this idea in work teams? In fact, one disagreeable team member can explain 14% of the variability in how well teams perform. You may have gotten a sense that people tend to be better team players when they care about what happens to the team and its members.

Research supports this as well. The concern facet of an individual’s psychological collectivism taps into whether or not an individual tends to be self-interested or have concern for the well-being of the teams they work with. Research indicates that the odds of being a top performing team are 57 times more likely for teams composed of members with a high concern for others.

These and other findings make it clear that for highly interdependent teams, the team-related individual difference variables matter. Are you harnessing the power of this research to fill your organisation with high performing teams?

What you can do:

  • Create a shopping list: Determine the extent that a role you are hiring for is team based. Team task analysis information can be collected alongside a standard job analysis in order to determine the extent that an individual’s role is team-based.
  • Start with the right ingredients: For jobs that are team-based, collect information during your selection process that taps into how well a candidate will function as part of the team. Ensuring that potential team members have what it takes to work effectively in a team environment and understanding whether the work-styles of potential team members will be compatible is critically important. Modern tools such as eTeamUps (www.eteamups) can help you to better understand the suitability of candidates for team-based positions. eTeamUps incorporates the latest research findings to generate compatibility scores and insights to help companies hire for team fit and form teams that are more likely to be high performing.
  • Give them time to warm up: Orient new hires to their job, but also to the team. Have team members share their areas of expertise, work style preferences, and what motivates them. Without being oriented to the team, new team members make assumptions on what others’ responsibilities and roles will be. These assumptions aren’t always based on truths which can lead to a rocky start and poor team performance, particularly early on.
  • Check in: Make regular measurements of team performance to help team members understand what they are doing right and what could be improved. In the absence of feedback, there is no learning. Teams need to know how they are doing and be encouraged to align their goals with those of the broader organization.

Well-formed teams are higher performing. High performing teams tend to have more satisfied team members who stay longer with your organisation. By getting the right team members right from the start, you can enable your organization to have its cake and eat it too.

Written by Suzanne Bell, team researcher

Dr. Bell is a leading team researcher with special expertise in team composition and team effectiveness. She is an Associate Professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology at DePaul University, Chicago, IL and serves on the eTeamUps board as Chief Scientist.

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