Thursday, May 14, 2009

Six key design insights.

Here are six key insights about designing high performing teams that I’ve learned through my professional practice:

- The basic assumptions underlying the team’s design choices determine the behaviors, activities and relationships of people who end up working there. Traditional assumptions produce traditional performance and traditional problems. You can only generate different behaviors and better outcomes if you think differently and use other models and design processes.

- Design begins with a clear vision about “what you want your teams to be when they grow up.” In a fast changing world, vision determines direction, not destination. The race to the future will belong to the swift and the adaptable, so design choices must embrace agility and flexibility. As Santayana observed, “No specific hope about distant issues is ever likely to be realized. The ground shifts, the will of mankind deviates, and what the father dreamt of, the children neither fulfill or desire.”

- The design of high performing teams isn’t so much a process of invention as an ongoing process of discovery and collaboration. Good design draws the most advantageous use from all available resources and is always conscious and comprehensive. It’s built on knowledge and insights about all relevant internal and external patterns and relationships. It involves not so much looking for ”the answer,” but selecting the most sensible alternative for a given time and place, with the certain knowledge that when the current contexts change, another answer will probably be more appropriate.

- The process of designing high performing teams involves making choices, allocating roles and responsibilities, specifying task assignments and job content, and defining the relationships between them. Without a disciplined way to do this, managers base their decisions on little more than opinions, past experiences, personal biases, desires for personal power, and untested assumptions. These are a poor replacement for a proven process of open investigation using validated data.

- Searching for a “silver bullet” that will painlessly resolve all existing difficulties is a distraction rather than a step in the right direction. Adopting other people’s solutions won’t work either unless you understand exactly how they’ll help you address and avoid the real causes of your problems.

- Design considerations should always bear in mind that people support what they help create.

Since many aspects of the world we live in today change at lighting speed, successful companies need to be able to change quickly as well. Survival in an uncertain world calls for discarding organizational structure as an end in itself. There’s no right way to organize any more, no final end-point to structure. What matters is the capacity to recognize, adapt to, and sometimes take the lead in inventing continuous change.

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