Managing Common Team Types

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 5.

Remote Teams

  • Half of US managers spend about half of their time on the road
  • Remote teams amplify the challenges around good communication
    • It’s easier to miscommunicate
    • It’s harder to build trust
  • Strategies to improve performance:
    • Have a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible, and schedule them regularly
      • Face-to-face helps establish a rapport and adjust to each others communication style.
      • Later, when communicating remotely, we still have a good sense of each other’s attitudes and feelings
      • GitHub has annual in-person meeting and a mandatory week at headquarters when first starting
    • Have a discussion where each person talks openly about their styles
      • Scenario: a more agressive communicator interacting witha more passive communicator:
        • the more aggressive communicator can come across as hostile, while they think they’re just acting normally
        • the more passive communicator can come across as unwilling to be honest and upfront about their opinions
        • If there is an open talk about how each person communicates, then people can have a better sense of the other’s intentions
      • It’s best to have these discussions during team chartering, when the group is first coming together
      • Use a communication style assessment:
        • DISC Survey
        • Persuasion Styles Assessmement (“The Art of Woo”, but Shell and Moussa)
        • Help each person reflect on their own style, and hence have a better discussion about styles
    • Building the water cooler
      • A place where people informally gather to take a break, make small talk and share ideas
      • Serves an important social function
      • Informal rapport building that occurs at the “water cooler” helps them to communicate more effectively in more formal work settings
      • For remote teams, there may be no natural place to gather
      • Need to be proactive in creating such a place in a virtual setting (“digital water cooler”)
      • GChat, Facebook chat, Slack
      • Dedicate the first few minutes of meetings for social time
      • Be very intential about creating an environment of good communication, as remote teams have fewer natural opportunities to do this

Startup Teams

  • Dollar Shave:
    • Mark Levine and Michael Dublin dreamed up subscription service for discount razors delivered to doorstep
    • Company took off so quickly, they could barely keep pace with demand
  • Other startups aren’t so lucky. They can crash and burn, and you must scramble just to keep the lights on
  • It can feel like all your waking hours need to be focused on getting the work done
  • However, you still have to pay attention to the teams’ interpersonal relationships
  • A good cohesive team may be more important that having a great idea for a product or service
    • Good ideas happen all the time
    • What separates successful companies is the ability to implement the ideas
  • Create check points for adjusting your team dynamic. There are three types:
    1. Engagement checkpoints
      • Establish times when you agree to check in on their level of involvement
      • The specific milestones depend upon their interests
        • e.g. hiring an administrative assistant who wants to work on coding software in the future, you might create a six-month checkpoint to discuss if that opportunity will actually open up for  them
    2. Problem checkpoints
      • Allow you to slow down from time to time and raise the yellow flag
        • Integrate (Jeremy Bloom)
          • Jeremry was more cautious, and he felt that his partner would often plough ahead, even when he was uncomfortable with the decision
          • Jeremy felt that his input was being ignored, so he created the “Yellow Flag” rating system
          • When the partners had to make a big decision, they would put a number on their level of their discomfort from 1 to 10
      • Quick way to surface disagreements, even when your team is moving at a fast pace
    3. Pivot checkpoints
      • A pivot is when you realise that you need to make a significant change in strategy, because:
        • something about your product or idea works really well, and you need to emphasise it
        • or it’s failing, and you need to go in a different direction
      • Tote (shopping app by Ben Silbermann)
        • Tote failed to catch on, except for one feature everyone loved: an option to pin and share products they loved with their friends
        • Silbermann made a pivot, and relaunched with that single feature at its core, called “Pinterest”
        • 2 years after launch, drawing 20 million visitors per month, valued at $1.5B.
      • At pivot checkpoint, decide if metrics require a change in strategy
      • When pivoting, set up a timeline and metrics to decide if new strategy is successful
  • Focus on creating built-in checkpoints that trigger discussions about your group dynamic

Product Development Teams

  • Group think is a major problem in product development teams
  • IDEO:
    • design thinking process
    • no precise framework for innovation
    • starts with the understanding the needs of the people you are trying to serve, and the questions to ask
  • The 6 core values of IDEO designers:
    1. Be optimistic
      • believe that anything is possible
      • designers have the freedom to explore and collaborate
    2. Clients are critical
      • they should be engaged at various points
    3. Take ownership – ask for forgiveness, not permission
      • designers are free to experiment
    4. Embrace anonymity as part of the process
      • the greater good of the team is more important than any individual contribution
    5. Learn from failure
      • there is no such thing as failure, as long as you’re learning from it
    6. Make other people successful
      • talk less, and do more
  • The goal is to get all the ideas on the table, and then to execute on them.
  • IDEO’s 6 principles
    1. Defer judgement
    2. Encourage wild ideas
    3. Build on the ideas of others
    4. Stay focused on the topic
    5. Be visual
    6. Go for quantity
      • there are no bad ideas
  • Sacrificial concept: a concept that may not make a lot of sense or is really basic, shared publicly to get help get as many other ideas out as possible
  • It is the large number of ideas (rather than any individual ideas) that make the process effective
  • Guidelines for setting roles within teams
    1. What skill sets are needed for the project
    2. Its initial goals
    3. The project leader on the client side
  • Ideas happen on the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability
    • Desirability: asking important questions about what people want when it comes to products.
      • Peoples needs can be broken up into 3 groups:
        • emotional
        • cognitive
        • physical
    • Feasibility: coming up with concepts based on insights from research
      • e.g. what are technical constraints that might present an issue?
    • Viability: an assessment of if it makes sense for business to implement the concepts

IDEO’s Research Methods for Product Development Teams

  • The Times newspaper came to IDEO with a problem in membership:
    • IDEO determined user experience issues was more important challenge to tackle in order to increase membership
    • After an in-depth research process, IDEO helped to come up with a concept that was desirable, feasible and viable.
  • Research methods
    1. Customer interviews
      • e.g. if IDEO is researching refridgerators, they may go shopping with a customer, and ask them questions about their habits
      • Curious about the multi-layered context in which people live and eat
      • Allows capture of smaller and more precise details that might not come out in a survey
    2. Analogous research
      • What are parallel organisations that might provide insight into my organisation’s challenge?
      • What are similar challenges others in the industry have overcome?
      • e.g. in creating a new Playstation game, IDEO researchers took Playstation players to a dance class. Asking questions about what problems they had, the researcher was able to infer similar problems that people new to gaming would have
    3. Experts in the field
      • Interview those in similar or separate fields
      • Insights from the field, and possibly allow collaboration
  • 3 methods allow triangulation and synthesise data in order to determine next steps
  • Allows developement of stories and setting of goals, roles and norms of product development effort
  • Design and prototype allows high quality feedback on initial design
  • Use methods to draw on others creativity, and ensuring they don’t shut down potentially valuable ideas and contribution
  • Methods provide a thorough and psychologically safe way to vet ideas
  • Key lessons:
    • ask the right questions
    • prototype your ideas
    • collect feedback
    • learn from failure


  • Committees: teams of people brought together for goals outside of their normal day job
  • Performance tends to suffer because of lack of engagement
  • High performance is possible if you align committee goals with personal goals
  • Common issues on committees:
    1. Committee members have other obligations that often take a high priority
    2. Committee members may not know the charge
      • aligning their own goals with the committee goals can be a challenge
  • Case study:
    • Committee in north-east US university
    • Comprised of faculty, staff and students
    • Charged to enhance campus and community life
    • Goal setting through a mix of charges from executives, and those set by the committee itself
    • People can set 3-5 short term goals per year
      • e.g. issues related to location of university, or the life of the university itself
      • e.g. research student health costs in theoperations of health insurance outside of the university
    • Deadlines for committee are not strict
    • Goals might roll over from year to year
    • Committment to goals is inspired by:
      1. Opportunity to learn
      2. Satisfaction of accomplishing goals
      3. Opportunity to have a voice
    • Passion for the committee comes from the fulfillment of personal goals of committee members
    • There is potential for private interests to overtake the greater good of the group
    • Structured reflection allows the team to come up with a strategy to correct bias
      • e.g. outside surveys
      • Rules for checks and balances
    • Norms determine roles because committee roles are fluid depending upon who is on the committee, and what the task is
    • It is important to have a process for checking in

Norm Setting for Committees

  • 4 strategies:
    1. Pay attention to communication channels
      • Establish how you will communicate and how often
      • e.g. “communication will take place in person at monthly meetings, with occasional follow up by email”
      • Effective communication doesn’t mean you have to constantly communicate. Rather, when you are together, you are open to suggestions, ask questions and prevent miscommunication
    2. Encourage information sharing
      • Members have different backgrounds
      • Need to understand what contextual information is needed to ensure mutual understanding
      • Take and share meeting minutes
    3. Establish subcommittees
      • Allows committee members to maximise their limited time and focus in an area to make a high impact
      • Each subcommittee should establish their own goals, roles and norms, and align with the task at hand
    4. Have respectful disagreements
      • be aware of the danger of minimising contributions from minorities, women, and other marginalised groups on committees
      • encouraging members to remain open to one another’s viewpoints
      • Get in the habit of saying “In my experience” before giving an opinion, which ensure the option is not assigned to the committee as a while

Committees (Reading)

  • Committees that work
    • Gather facts, then establish procedures
    • Design committees like an architect
    • Assign people to committees carefully—and set them up to succeed
    • Run committees using best-practice disciplines

Building a Strong Startup Team Culture

How to be the Best Virtual Teammate

How to Innovate Like an Olympian

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