Oct 272014

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II

The idea that a senior management team should be balanced is far more easily intellectually accepted than effectively deployed. In my coaching practice, I regularly encounter teams which obviously have been patched together out of ‘what was available at the time’. This situation most often is the result of an urgency to get something going and a narrowed vision. But it is important to regularly revisit the question: “Do I have the right people in the right places to maximize the chances of success?”

A Balanced Team

The process of designing a balanced team begins with a thoroughgoing assessment of the needs of the company if it is going to thrive in its space. In other words, determining what the team should look like if the company is going to leverage its competitive advantages and beat out its competition. This is a process of determining, given the company’s history, resourcing and condition, what would be ideally the right people with the right skills, experiences, and connections in the right slots at the right time.

I believe that this assessment should properly begin with the evolution of a new corporate vision statement and proceed through the development of a substantially revised or completely new strategic plan.

It is at this point that the team leader sometimes objects. “I know my business and what it needs. Why can’t I just go out and fill those needs?” Why indeed? In my coaching practice one of the constants has been the weak vision statement that a team leader has for their company. It is, at best, a general and diffused vision and sometimes an ineffective and none-functional one.

A short example might help. Recently one of my clients began the process of developing a new vision statement. His company was growing but more recently slowly than he wanted. Its focus was narrowed on a value proposition that had mostly run its course. Additional progress was possible but growth was going to be limited.

At first the process went slowly … it was difficult for the CEO to see beyond the current focus of his company. We kept at it. Then one morning came the breakthrough … a new vision for the company. We are now in the process of developing a new strategic plan. As a direct result of this process, the definition of what his team needs to be has come into sharp focus and has been expanded. The way ahead is now much clearer.

The Process of Design

Once a vision statement and strategic plan are in place, a comprehensive process is undertaken which is designed to provide the team leader with a framework for making decisions based on an organization’s vision statement, strategic plan, mission, budgetary resources, and a set of desired combined team member skill sets.

This process involves an assessment of present team member competencies; an identification of skill sets required; a comparison of the present team strengths and weaknesses with future needs; identification of gaps and excesses; preparation of plans for building the new management team; and a monitoring and evaluation process to assure that objectives are being met.

Effective team development planning requires strong leadership; a clearly articulated vision and mission, and strategic objectives; and by-in by all present members of the management team. It also requires a carefully and realistically designed budgeting process which takes into consideration the resources available to accomplish the mission. This budgeting process needs to allow for the funding for team growth. Once skill sets needed have been defined they must be acquired in a timely fashion. That means that they need to not only be found but also paid for.

The design of the management team is grounded in the needs of the company. A design for a well balanced and resourced management team provides the existing team with a strategic basis for making team expansion and modification decisions. It allows them to anticipate change rather than being surprised by events or disadvantaged by misalignment.

Some components of the new team will be an expansion of those skill sets presently available within the team. A solid design for team expansion provides more a refined basis for building on existing competencies. Other skill sets will be new to the team. Such a plan will facilitate the integration of those skill sets into the over all management team.

Make no mistake about it; success depends on having the best people with the highest competencies in the right slots and at the right time. Team planning provides a leader with the means of identifying the competencies needed both in the present and also in the future. It provides a reliable guide for developing an effective senior management team.

One more point should be made. Team planning allows a founder to systematically and effectively address issues that are driving change in the company’s space. The overall benefits of team planning, then, are to allow the founder to more effectively build a senior management team and improve the chances that that team will succeed in growing the company.

What’s In a Plan?

A team development plan should include a management assessment, competency assessments, gap and surpluses analysis, and team evolution planning. The plan should result in a road map which spans the underlying assumptions through to the output of the planning. This establishes the validity of any team development plan by demonstrating the links between team planning and strategic management, budget justifications, the vision statement and mission and both strategic and tactical goals, and human resources planning.

Team development planning provides a leader with a strategic basis for decision-making that is based on achievable goals. Metrics will allow a leader to anticipate turnover (planned or otherwise) and to plan recruiting and team member development … to move the team toward the team that is needed in the future.

Plans for team transition are inputs to planning for team expansion, internal training, movement, reassignment, and recruiting.

Assessing the Team

A team assessment identifies skill sets, analyzes synergies and identifies gaps and surpluses. A skill set assessment provides baseline data on the existing team. Over time, a trend analysis will provide data on how successfully the team development plan is being implemented. Trend analysis is essential to the effective implementation of any team development plan.

A demand analysis measures future activities and workloads and describes the skill sets needed by the team of the future. Demand analysis must take into account changes in team composition that are driven by changing organizational demands.

Finding the Gaps and Surpluses

A gap analysis compares information from the team assessment and demand analysis. It identifies the differences between the current team competencies and the skill sets needed in the future. The comparison requires that the skill sets defined in the team assessment and the demand analysis phases be comparable … that is not independently developed. Gap analysis identifies situations in which the number of personnel or competencies in the current team will not meet future needs (demand exceeds supply) and situations in which current competencies exceed the needs of the future (supply exceeds demand).

Planning the Response

This process should result in a response plan for closing gaps in skill sets and reducing surpluses. It will include such things as planned recruiting, training, retraining, and placing or replacing team members. An affective response plan must take into account team member needs or aspirations … which may work either in favor of or counter to the direction of planned team evolution. The response plan needs to be integrated into the company’s strategic plan.

Three components of a well based plan deserve special mention. Management team assessment is a process which defines and quantifies skill sets and competencies (both existing and required to carry out a future function). Conducting a management team assessment requires the leaders of an organization to anticipate how the nature of the organization’s focus will change, and then to identify future human resource requirements. A well-based management team assessment is critical to the evolution of an effective plan for team development.

Leadership assessment identifies the attributes that will help each team member become a more effective leader and the behaviors that are limiting both their and the company’s growth. Assessing the leadership styles and effectiveness of key team members will help evolve and implement an effective team development plan.

Role analysis describes the conditions of successful job performance. Role analysis focuses on tasks, responsibilities, knowledge and skill requirements as well as other criteria that contribute to successful contributions by each team member. Information collected in this process is used to identify and quantify competencies.

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