These days, it’s not so easy to be surprised by technology. During the past decade, we’ve become comfortable with devices that manage what we watch on TV, websites that are the focal point of our social lives, and cell phones that listen, do what we ask them to do, and talk back to us. How long can it be before the secret labs at Google will be predicting our grandchildren’s eye color and shoe size, while Siri (or her Android cyber-sister) tells us which socks will work best with the selected sweater?
Orwellian? Certainly. Scary? Maybe a little. But there are good reasons why more and more people are trusting technology to do things that, only months or days prior, they were doing for themselves. First, as users of technology-driven decision support will tell you, the stuff actually works! And secondly, if we don’t agree with it, we are still free to make our own choices, be they good or bad, with no one else to answer to — at least, not until an “I-Told-You-So” app becomes standard issue on an iPhone.
In business, technology has changed the way we do things, even more radically than at home. We have enterprise software that manages and tracks all business processes, Teamability™ e-commerce and automatic data capture accelerating transactions, and business intelligence combined with web metrics and social network analysis that can sharpen business decision making down to the customizing of what a single individual will see in a catalog or on the screen. But there’s one area where the impact of new technology has been notably absent: team performance.
I’m not talking about “productivity”, mind you. Computer technology has been accelerating our productive capacity for over 50 years. The focal point here is team synergy — that elusive phenomenon that can make the difference between a team that surpasses all expectations, and one that stumbles and falls.
I suspect that you, dear reader, may be one of those bottom-line thinkers who believe teambuilding is just a touchy-feely-fest, and that I’m headed in that direction. Please remain calm.
The topic is teaming technology, and we will be exploring real-world business benefits obtained from a completely new “technology of teaming” created by The Gabriel Institute in Philadelphia. It’s called Teamability™.
It all comes down to understanding how people will team with each other — not just what they know, or what they do, or the tools they use. And the measurement of people, it seems, may be woefully in need of new perspective. The standard intelligence tests in use today originated in the early 1900’s. Personality testing tools (the familiar Myers-Briggs and dozens of similar methods) date back to the 1940s. More recent approaches that measure values, strengths, employee engagement and so on, still use these same survey methods … not that there’s anything wrong with that. They measure what they were designed to measure, and they do it well, but … doesn’t it seem like some technological innovation is long overdue?
We’re going to start by looking at what happened in a hard-nosed business that gets right down in the dirt … literally. It mines sand. Think hourglasses and beach volleyball. Preferred Sands, based near Philadelphia, PA, has become a multi-billion dollar giant in its industry through flawless execution in meeting the needs of global energy companies. This environment doesn’t invite frivolous experimentation, and here, in the words of the CEO, is what happened when they adopted this new, hi-tech way to measure and predict how people will perform on teams.
“After one of our acquisitions, we evaluated the staff and decided to bring in a general manager. The new hire seemed great at first, but then problems began to appear. This particular situation coincided with our discovery of Teamability™, and became our first “field tria”.’ The entire team at that site took the assessment, and the reports virtually mirrored the actual behavior issues. This taught us the first lesson about the importance of matching a person’s (Teamability™-measured) “Role” and “Teaming Characteristics” to a specific situation. We then used the technology to find the right fit at the GM level, and to make other adjustments. The problems went away.”
The passage above is from a 2011 SuperNova Award® business case1, and in it, Preferred’s CEO Mike O’Neill goes on to say: “In the drive to grow and cope with rapid change, we needed people who get could on board quickly, blend well, and produce at a high level. Instead, we were experiencing new-hire turnover in the neighborhood of 30%. From the time we began using TGI’s technology, that number began to fall and is now, effectively, zero. Time and cost associated with the hiring process is also reduced. Now, before we invest in face-to-face meetings, we screen for the kind of team-players who are the right fit for the job, for a specific team’s mission, and for our culture.”
Teamability™ has also been applied in the electronics industry, with significant positive results. Rapid shifts in the competitive landscape led to steep sales declines at the U.S. division of a Japanese manufacturing giant, and a series of downsizings left employee morale in tatters. New leadership was looking for ways to quickly size up the situation, and to guide decisions about restructuring and re-energizing teams. TGI’s technology struck a resonant chord. The information extracted from Teamability™ reports was aggregated, producing teaming measures that were used to adjust job assignments, realign teams, and do other fine-tuning, all in short order and with good results.
Considering the range of business impact — from drastic reductions in new-hire turnover, to problem resolution, to strategic and competitive performance improvements, the benefits of understanding how people team together begin to seem far too important to be ignored.
In the example above, Teamability™ arrived via the recommendation of Don Patrick, an Executive Recruiter with two decades of experience finding and supplying leaders to the electronics and wireless communications industries. Don’s experience confirms the importance of understanding how people team with others.
“It’s a fact,” says Don, “that despite the best efforts of people in my profession, and of hiring managers, to screen and test candidates, and to conduct structured interviews, newly-hired executives fail far more often than they should. And on the other side of the coin, exceptional team performance does not always coincide with having ‘the best and the brightest’ leaders or team members. When I learned there was a way to measure teaming, I wanted to know more, right away.” (See Teamability™ Comes to Telecommunications at the end of this article.)
OK, by now you must be asking yourself “Where did this ‘technology of teaming’ come from, and why haven’t I heard about it?” Here’s the deal:
In 1984, two behavioral scientists — Dr. Janice Presser and Dr. Jack Gerber — set out to find an answer to the question “What really happens when people ‘team’ together, and can it be measured?” The quest turned out to be bigger and broader than they ever expected.
It took 25 years of research and testing, including 9 years of software development, to create a completely new technology engineered to identify and organize the ways in which people interact in teams. During the course of its development, some very useful — and practical — metrics of “teaming” were discovered. They include:
• Role: a person’s affinity for specific modes of service to the needs of a team
• Coherence: expressed as positive, flexible, constructive teaming behaviors
• Teaming Characteristics: individual styles of responding and relating to others, subject to situational context
• Role-respect: the unique manner in which people of different Roles experience appreciation and respect
• Role-pairing: known, replicable synergies between specific Roles
• Role-fit: an appropriate match between a person’s Role and their assigned set of job responsibilities
• Team-fit: structuring a team to include the Roles that are best-fit to the team’s mission
“Long before we began to work together,” says Dr. Presser, “both Jack and I had been seeking ways to understand and describe the ‘physics’ of team performance. Our first work together was an extensive study of existing theories and tools. Eventually, we realized that the answers could only be found in uncharted territory. That’s what fired our passion and kept us going for all those years.”
Drs. Presser and Gerber founded The Gabriel Institute in 2001 to complete the evolution of their work, and late in 2009, it was launched as an online experience. By mid-2012, Teamability™ had matured into a comprehensive suite of Role-based teaming metrics and team development methods, in use by 120+ corporate, institutional, and non-profit organizations ranging from HP and the U.S. Department of Justice, to business, institutional, and non-profit users of all sizes, worldwide.
I’m going to assume that you wouldn’t still be reading this if you weren’t involved in selecting, employing, developing, managing, and/or motivating teams. I’ve spent a lot of years working in big organizations, with big responsibilities, and I know how excellent teamwork — when you are lucky enough to have it — can produce phenomenal business performance. Even so, I couldn’t sum up how I feel about Teamability™ any better than Mike O’Neill did for the SuperNova competition:
Here’s what I recommend: whether you have hiring quality problems, or team performance problems, or any other people-related issues or challenges, stop paying so much attention to talent, and focus on finding the right team-players.
Teamability™ Comes to Telecommunications
While it’s true that team interaction is a basic mode of human behavior, the needs of different kinds of teams — in different industries — each have their own specific qualities. As an executive recruiter with decades of experience serving telecom and wireless firms here and abroad, Don Patrick has a big-picture perspective on the situation.
“I have specialized in finding highly adept executives for this industry since the 1980’s, and have always done my best to steer my clients in the right direction. But there is no getting around the fact that choosing and deploying team members involves significant risks. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
In fact, research by Leadership IQ has reported that the average new-hire turnover rate is 46% within 18 months of hiring, and a study by Manchester, Inc. found that 40% of internal promotions are considered failures within 18 months. Meanwhile the statistics on successes vs. failures across a range of corporate team initiatives are startlingly dismal.
Mr. Patrick goes on to say: “Since I became familiar with Teamability™ — which I now use in all of my searches — I have re-examined many assumptions that I had about people. Looking back over my career, I have been amazed by the way TGI’s concepts of Role and Coherence in team activity seem to align perfectly with the way different business scenarios actually played out.”
It may come as no surprise that Mr. Patrick has become so enthusiastic about Teamability™ that he recommends it even to those who don’t engage his professional services. “Applying TGI’s measurement of Role-fit and Team-fit is, in my opinion, the only reliable way to circumvent the troubles that typically arise when a team includes people who may have the right skills and experience, but are simply a wrong fit for the existing business ecosystem and/or the mission of the team.”
Asked what this might this mean for the telecom industry, Don replied: “Our marketplace is facing all kinds of challenges, and under the added pressures of global competition, government regulation, and a constant barrage of technological change, new management insights are desperately needed. Obviously, there are many ways to address the issues, but in the end it all comes down to the people and the teams that things get done. I firmly believe that any organization that is quick to recognize and adopt this technology will realize fundamental strategic, operational, and competitive advantages.”
1. SuperNova Awards celebrate the explorers, the pioneers, and the often unsung heroes who successfully put innovative technologies to work. The awards program is conducted by Constellation Research Group, which provides C-suite and Board level advisory services, with a special focus on strategic application of disruptive technologies for competitive advantage.
About D. Lowell Hussey
D. Lowell Hussey is a senior executive and a successful entrepreneur in the entertainment industry. A graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School, Lowell was an important player in the group of pioneers who introduced CNN, MTV, Video on Demand and Cable Ad Sales to the world. He served as a Senior VP at Time-Warner Cable and CEO of two early wireless communications firms. Lowell is currently sponsoring the non-profit Fhilly Fifteen[sec]Film Festival, “to launch 1000 new careers, not a dozen new Art Films”. He also offers discount consulting to interesting projects and/or really nice people. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Don Patrick
Don Patrick is the owner of Sanford Rose Associates – Norcross, near Atlanta, GA. Don’s firm is primarily focused on executive search in the telecom and wireless communication industries. Contact: drpatrick (at) sanfordroseassociates (dot) com