The Timing for Teaming

Most any successful large business has an effective management team at the top. That’s not so easy to create, however.

“Few teams function as well as they could,” Michiel KruytJudy Malan and Rachel Tuffield note in a new article in the McKinsey Quarterly. “But the stakes get higher with senior-executive teams: Dysfunctional ones can slow down, derail or even paralyze a whole company.”

The article goes on to offer extensive advice on how to improve team performance, emphasizing the importance of getting the appropriate people on the team, keeping them focused on the right things and making sure they work well together. “When a CEO gets serious about making sure that her top team’s members are willing and able to help meet the company’s strategic goals, about ensuring that the team always focuses on the right topics, and about managing dynamics, she’s likely to get results,” the piece concludes.

Peter Drucker wrote extensively about building top management teams, and he certainly would have agreed with the thrust of the McKinsey analysis (though, as we’ve discussed, he thought it was essential when staffing an organization to understand “for what” before deciding on the “who.”)

Yet Drucker would have likely added another crucial element for building a top team: timing.

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[EXPAND More] Indeed, Drucker believed that problems with top management teams—or, more precisely, the lack of top management teams—can quickly deteriorate beyond the point of being fixable. By the time a company outgrows the ability of one or two people to run it, the enterprise should already have a competent management team in place.

“If it does not have one already in place at the time, it is very late—in fact, usually too late,” Drucker warned in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The best one can then hope is that the business will survive. But it is likely to be permanently crippled or suffer scars that will bleed for many years to come.”

One reason that quickly hiring a team of capable managers isn’t likely to stave off a crisis is, again, that timing is unforgiving. “Teams cannot be formed overnight,” Drucker wrote. “They require long periods before they can function. Teams are based on mutual trust and mutual understanding, and this takes years to build up. In my experience, three years is about the minimum.”

How much does timing matter in building good teams? Can a new team ever hit the ground running? [/EXPAND]