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Experts' strategies for CR team performance improvement
Analyze, seek individual improvements
Individual research institutions and companies can turn their low-performing teams into high-performing teams by addressing behavioral and personality problems.
Experts offer these suggestions for how to turn a low-performing team into a high-performing team:
Analyze teams and their members for internal motivation: "We think internal motivation is genetically pre-disposed," says Ross Giombetti, MBA, vice president of Giombetti Associates in Hampden, MA. Giombetti uses a behavioral/personality assessment process called Performance Dynamics with research teams to identify their obstacles to success.
"If your team and culture are highly-motivated, meaning your company moves very quickly and you bring on board somebody who does not possess the areas that drive motivation, then they'll be a mismatch with your team and culture," Giombetti says.
Mismatched team members cause conflict and stress on teams.
Also, born leaders tend to be competitive, high energy, disciplined, and have strong internal motivation.
"Natural-born leaders are naturally able to influence people, and they typically have an ability to think and strategize effectively," says Curtis Sprouse, president and chief executive officer of EurekaConnect and Boston Market Strategies of Ipswich, MA.
"They manage authority well and don't hammer people, but handle things appropriately," Sprouse adds.
These personalities are desirable on teams, but they can be rare and should be nurtured and given the opportunity to meet their potential, Sprouse says.
Unfortunately, the research industry often has such talent hidden away in labs or backrooms cranking out statistics, and no one realizes they have strong interpersonal skills and can inspire and lead, Sprouse says.
Or, worse, such leaders might be suppressed on a team that is dysfunctional.
For instance, team members might be resistant to improving their leadership skills and qualities, says Kara Cleveland, principal of Colby Management Group, a San Antonio, TX, biotech/pharma/IT consulting company.
"I was working with a team and tried to invite people to a global leadership group, and they looked at me like I had three heads," Cleveland recalls.
Cleveland also encouraged team members to join local networking and leadership groups, but one person on her team sought to derail this idea.
"This person said there was a leadership group within the company, and that was the route they take," she says.
Cleveland eventually succeeded in obtaining buy-in for the behavioral/personality assessments by presenting these as tools that would help people develop their leadership skills. Once the first group of people went through the assessment process, they were sold on it and talked about it with their colleagues.
Address team members' attitude: "The biggest detractor of team performance is attitude," Giombetti says. "You can hire somebody who has all the talent in the world and all the technical ability to solve any problem that comes their way, but if they have a terrible attitude they'll be a terrible detriment to your team and single-handedly bring it down."
Some people with bad attitudes can change. In other cases, it might be better to fire the person who disrupts the team.
"We saw one team of 12 people in which four were naturally-born leaders, and that's highly unusual," Sprouse says. "But the team had one toxic personality, a person who was likely to disrupt or destroy the project."
The bad apple's behavior involved exerting control over all aspects of the project regardless of whether other members of the team had more expertise and experience.
"This type of person comes to a meeting and says, 'I don't agree with you,' but offers no solutions," Sprouse explains. "Or the person might say to the boss, 'I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing,' giving the team the perception that the leader hasn't communicated clearly."
Cleveland handled an incident like this by addressing the person's bad attitude in front of the team.
"I said, 'Help me understand. You've been here six months, and you mean to say you don't know what your role is?'" she explains.
In Sprouse's example, this one bad apple was bringing down the entire team. The disruptive team member admitted to the bad behavior, but said it would change. Unfortunately, this change never occurred, leaving management to make a decision about whether to save the team by taking this one person off of it or letting the unsatisfactory status quo continue.
On the other side, team members with positive attitudes often are people who have good interpersonal skills. They care about people and care about the team, Giombetti says.
"The biggest asset and contributor to any team is interpersonal skills," he says. "One trait that measures attitude is compromise; it's a personality trait that measures one's ability to be open-minded, flexible, and adaptive to the ideas and opinions of others."
On one side you have people who will search for the best possible decision for the team. On the other side, you have someone who is strong-willed, opinionated, cynical, and inflexible, and who wants it done his way, he adds.
Help turn-around passive-aggressive behavior: In the research industry, passive-aggressive behavior is prevalent and contributes to the industry's indecisiveness and problems, Giombetti, Cleveland, and Sprouse say.
Team leaders and management should take quick note of these behaviors and address them.
For example, Cleveland was leading a team meeting that was attended by consultants she had brought in to expedite a project's completion. One member of her team questioned why one of the consultants was spending time at a meeting instead of working on assigned tasks. Only this passive-aggressive team member did not ask Cleveland this question. Instead, he emailed the question to a supervisor who was not present, including Cleveland in the email. And he did this while sitting one foot away from Cleveland in the meeting.
During a break, Cleveland saw his email and the supervisor's response and she was flabbergasted. She decided to address the situation in two ways:
First, she asked the team member why he emailed his question and didn't just ask her about it at the meeting. He replied that he didn't want the consultant to hear the question, and Cleveland's response was that the consultant was a big girl who could handle this type of question. When Cleveland pointed out that his behavior was passive-aggressive, he denied it.
Secondly, Cleveland opened the next day's meeting by saying, "We're putting a lot of money and time into these meetings, and it's not just a waste of your time, although I get the sense some people think it is."
She asked team members to come speak with her that afternoon if they had any questions and concerns, but to focus on the meeting topics while they were there.
"I said, 'If I see you on the phone, I'm going to take it away,'" she says.
Unfortunately, the one team member's passive-aggressive behavior continued, causing interpersonal problems, and it had to be re-addressed, she adds.
Forget about situations that cannot be controlled: One cause of decision-making paralysis in the research industry is that teams tend to require too much accuracy before deciding on a course of action.
"We'd encourage these folks to think about the decisions that require an accuracy that you can't control," Giombetti says. "They should forget about them, not worry about them."
This saves time to focus on the decisions that are feasible and will make a team faster, he adds.
"The general rule of thumb we would encourage these people to go by is when they are making a decision they should have 40% to 70% of the data," he says. "
If they have less than 40% then they probably made a rash decision, and if they have more than 70%, it's almost always too late, he adds.
Dysfunctional research teams often wait until they have 70% to 90% of the data, Sprouse observes.
"We see teams that need a lot of data and spend significant amounts of time working on it," he says.