What Makes a Great Team On-line and Off?

We are witnessing a significant shrinkage in the digital divide between on-line and off-line work, as rapid digitization takes hold. The days when online work was led by the digital savvy are rapidly disappearing as even the baby boomer generation embrace social media. Our research has even identified that co-located teams use electronic means to record and share their work artifacts. So how can the movement to digital be used to assess team performance?

The management literature is profuse with models and methods for assessing teams and team performance. Traditionally team assessments have focused on the behavioural preferences of team members and the needs to accommodate diversity, or sometimes a lack of diversity, to ensure maximum team performance. The ubiquitous Myers-Briggs personality profiling emerged in the 1960’s with profiles compiled from introvert/extrovert; sensing/thinking; thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving poles. One of my favorites though is the Team Management Systems.  I have been ‘TMSed’ several times in my career. Comparing our online SWOOP Personas with the TMS profiles we can see there is a somewhat loose mapping:

Personas teams

Briefly, Engagers are able to balance contributions made and contributions received; Catalysts receive more than they give; Responders contribute more than they receive; Broadcasters are like Responders, but post more than they reply and finally Observers have too lower levels of participation to be classified otherwise. While we would happily assign ‘Linking’ to the ‘Engager’ persona, Margerison-McCann, the inventors of the TMS, suggest that linking can be a learned trait for all profiles, rather than an inherent preference. If so, we could infer that no matter what persona you display, in the longer term we are all capable of learning how to be a Linker/Engager. Margerison-McCann place a high emphasis on the connection between linking and team success. We can see the Catalyst Persona mapping to Innovating; Broadcaster to Promoting, Engager to Developing/Organising/Producing and Responder to Maintaining/Advising. The one potential mismatch at this time is that our ‘Observer’ persona is currently a catch all for those not well engaged with the platform. We might hope though that some of these observers at least might adopt an ‘inspecting’ role, if they choose not to be more centrally active. Overall, the mapping to TMS profiles gives us the confidence that over time, real-time team assessments are within reach.

Perhaps my most memorable TMS learning was when the TMS profiles were conducted in conjunction with one of those executive outdoor adventure-learning programs. We were Team blogall duly provided coloured caps that represented our preferred TMS style. We quickly learnt how dysfunctional a raft building team full of ‘Organisers’ and ‘Producers’ could be!  In the on-line world one could also envisage a team overloaded with one particular persona, might have dysfunctional effects e.g. teams full of catalysts might have trouble concluding tasks; or a team of responders and broadcasters may have trouble moving forward with team tasks. The exception may be a team full of engagers, which on balance, may arguably be the secret for team success, based on some of the more recent research described later in this post.

Instruments like Myers-Briggs and TMS and the like can only be point in time checks. They are expensive and can therefore only be done periodically, and often only with selected teams. Unlike my outdoor adventure learning experience, we don’t wear our preference profiles on our sleeves or on our head. Teams are also changing far more dynamically now, making the team bonding task even more challenging. So what can the movement to digital do to help us maximise team performance? Can we do team profiling now in real-time?

More recent research on teams is surfacing the social inclusion aspects of high performing teams.  Google’s search for what constitutes the ‘perfect team’ largely dismissed the importance of what we might call the ‘team of stars’ in favour of interaction attributes like social sensitivity and psychological safety. In common with one of our favourite studies on what makes great teams, by MIT’s Sandy Pentland, is the recognition that great teams have members who all talk and listen in roughly equal proportions. Pentland’s invention of the social tag provides a hint that we are close to assessing team performances in real time.

Recently we wrote about the SWOOP Online Personas that we had designed and tested on live Enterprise Social Networking sites (Yammer). We also noted that ESN use was yet to move down to the team level; something that we strongly recommended should happen if true collaboration performance changes were to be achieved.

To move the agenda forward with on-line team profiling, we developed a collaboration measurement framework that acknowledges team assessment methods now need to move from the traditional off-line survey based assessments to on-line and real time. It also recognizes that team assessments need to move from a focus on the individual profiles to personas that capture interaction behaviours. While we will save a review of this framework for a later post, we can say that the framework has been mostly used at the enterprise level, though where it has been applied to smaller  ‘team sized” organisations or even for individual teams inside a larger organisation, we can clearly see the positive impact of moving collaborative platforms and their associated analytics down to the team level.

We think that the movement to on-line team profiling, leading to higher team performance is imminent. Team profiling assessments will not have to wait until outcomes are achieved and measured, but will monitor team behaviour patterns in real-time, to allow adjustments to be made in time to ensure good outcomes are achieved in all circumstances.

So back to our question “What makes a great team online and off?”  I hope we have been able to convince you that it’s the same things, no matter whether you are operating largely on-line or off.



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