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Building the right team

Part 3 of The Business Transformation Series

It’s not only a favourite subject, it’s also one of the most important.  Think about it: you’ve taken the first steps towards building the business case for your transformation.  You’ve worked out what outcomes and benefits you are going to deliver and how much it is going to cost. Brilliant job, you are up and running!

But….. no matter how brilliant you are, you can’t do all of this transformation stuff on your own.  You need some help!

I’ve been working in teams, leading teams, building teams for …. longer than I’d care to remember!  It’s one of the main reasons I enjoy management consultancy and why I’ve stuck at it, through all the tough times!   Every new project, programme and engagement is a chance to work with new people, find out what makes them tick, and try to get the best out of them to deliver change and make things happen.

The main focus in this article is on how to go about building your team to deliver business transformation.  But I also think it’s important to cover other features of team building, such as joining an existing team; working with other team members; dealing with different personality types; working for effective and inspiring leaders; inheriting existing teams and working out how to make them better.  I’ll also highlight some experiences of working for ineffective managers, uninspiring leaders and working in dysfunctional teams. Hopefully you can avoid the same pitfalls!

At the risk of confusing matters from the outset, I think one of the most important points about building the right team is that you are rarely building just one “right team”, particularly for business change and transformation work.

What do I mean by this?

Well, even from the very beginning of your transformation you’ll need to ensure that two main teams are established, and both of them are as important as each other.  One is the team of people that will actually deliver the work – they’ll analyse the issues, come up with the ideas, then plan and deliver the required changes. The other team is the senior people who will sponsor the work, set the direction, decide how much of their organisation’s money will be spent on delivering the transformation, and make the tough decisions when issues arise.

The other point, which I’ll come back to in more detail later, is that the initial team of a few key individuals will have to grow in size as your business transformation gathers pace and you start to deliver in earnest.  And, whilst you’ll always want to maintain the sense of a single overall transformation team, you’ll also want to actively encourage the development of teams within the overall team.

Let’s call these three entities the Core Delivery Team, the Executive Team and the Team of Teams.   I’ll now cover each of these in turn.

Forming your Core Delivery Team

Let’s assume you are literally starting from scratch – I’ll cover later the situation where you inherit a team.   Let’s also assume that you are using a High Spot Review approach or equivalent – follow this link to discover how to do a High Spot Review.  My first key piece of advice is that you need to put your leader in place as soon as possible: the person who is in charge and responsible for delivering the work – the person who is “in the driving seat”.  Someone who is motivated, ambitious, hard-working, and who can, in turn, motivate and inspire the team to deliver good quality work on time and to budget.

You’ll also need at least one, and possibly several, experienced people in this initial team to carry out the analysis of your “as-is” position and to identify the key issues.

It is difficult to be precise about the appropriate size of your initial delivery team.  It will largely depend on the scale and complexity of your organisation and the planned scope of change.   If, for example, you are tackling three functional areas of your organisation, say Finance, Human Resources and Procurement, it probably makes sense to have one experienced person, or subject matter expert (SME), from each area.  Or if you’re tackling, for example, three divisions of an organisation, it is probably sensible to have one representative from each division on your team. And, as highlighted in my Business Case article, it is very important to have someone from Finance in your team from the beginning.

But you also need to make sure you don’t bring too many people on board too quickly.   As a general rule of thumb, your initial team to deliver the High Spot Review should probably be in the range of 3 to 6 people.  As stated in my first article – Getting Started – you’ve got to achieve a good balance: for example, one person can’t possibly have all the necessary skills, experience and background knowledge to deliver an effective High Spot Review.  On the other hand, you may find that “too many cooks spoil the broth”.

The other key trick to pull off, whilst establishing your core delivery team, is to begin establishing a wider network of contacts within your organisation, and potentially also with key external suppliers, to provide you with an extended ‘virtual’ team.  This is often relevant if you are focusing on business-led change but you know that you’ll need to improve or replace the supporting IT. In this case it is very important to establish good working relationships with key members of the IT department, such as the specialists in certain applications, or members of the architecture team, such as the overall Solution Architect, Data Architect, Technical Architect and so forth.  Furthermore, given the likely close involvement of the IT department, it usually makes sense for your CIO or IT Director to be on the Executive Team, which I’ll cover in the next section.

As you near completion of the High Spot Review, I recommend that you start thinking about the potential longer term roles for your core team members.  Is the team leader a potential candidate for the Programme Director role? Should some of the ‘virtual team’ member from the IT department be appointed to specific roles within the programme team, e.g. project architects or technical workstream delivery managers?  Should your financial analyst become the Business Case architect who will manage the cost and benefit profiles through the full lifecycle of your programme? And so forth…

You should also aim to establish at least a basic programme management office (PMO) as you complete the High Spot Review.

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Providing you have a good Programme Director and capable work stream or project managers in place, you should certainly only need one person in the PMO initially.  The PMO lead is a very important role to get right as you build your team. There can be a tendency for senior management to think of the PMO as just a lowly administrative role.  I think it is quite the opposite – you need someone who is proactive, energetic, keen to learn, very diligent and focused on the detail, and who can establish and maintain good working relationships with the Programme Director and each of the workstream leads.

The PMO lead also needs to have a robust personality along with good diplomacy skills!  I’ve had the full gamut of experience here: some very young and inexperienced people turn out to be fantastic PMO leads.  I’ve also had some very experienced project management professionals who are awful at the job. And very recently I had a PMO member of my delivery team who was close to retirement but put lots of energy, spirit and some welcome ironic humour into the role, and thus was very effective!

The PMO role takes all sorts!   But if you appoint someone and it doesn’t work out, change them quickly or you’ll regret it later.


Forming the programme Executive Team – aka the Steering Board

As I said in the first article in this series – Getting Started – the crucial executive role for your transformation programme is the Sponsor or, as it’s usually known in the public sector, the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO). She or he is the senior person from your organisation who will personally back the change and ensure the organisation puts the right resources in place to deliver it. They need to be a well respected member of the organisation’s executive team, with the personal vision and passion to drive the work forward. They must be a good communicator and, above all else, someone who is prepared to make tough decisions, take on vested interests and tackle change resistance within their organisation.

The other key members of your Steering Board should be operational directors from within your business, ideally with P&L responsibility or at least major cost centre responsibility. These Steering Board members must be the “Benefit Owners” for the financial benefits your programme will deliver – see more details in my previous article Business Case. You can only realise a financial benefit within a P&L account, or the equivalent in the public sector, and it can only be realised by the leaders who own the financial levers for those accounts.

I would also recommend that you ask the Finance Director (FD) to be a member of your Steering Board, or at least make sure they are very closely tied into the transformation programme. In fact, some of the most successful transformation programmes I’ve led have had the FD as the Sponsor. It is much better to have the FD as the senior person who is driving the work and putting their reputation on the line, rather than running the risk of the FD just being the senior person who says “No, we can’t afford that”! And, as mentioned in the Core Delivery Team section, it is almost always sensible to have your CIO or IT Director on the Steering Board too.

Your Programme Director should attend and present at the Steering Boards. It is very important that they already have, or can quickly establish, good working relationships with all members of the programme Steering Board. These team members may need face to face discussions to cover tough issues and identify pragmatic compromises. It is usually better to have these difficult conversations “off line” first before taking them to the next formal board meeting.

Your programme Sponsor also needs to have effective working relationships with their senior colleagues. From time to time they may need to have some tough conversations, for example if a board member is not pulling their weight or seems to be resisting change. And you should watch out for your Sponsor preferring to operate in their comfort zone with colleagues they like and get on with, rather than “having the difficult conversations” with the most challenging and awkward of their senior colleagues.

Depending on the scale and impact of your business transformation, it is probably also sensible to ensure that the overall leader of your organisation, e.g. CEO, Director General etc., is actively involved. You should at least ensure that the Sponsor, supported by the Programme Director, briefs the CEO on a regular basis. Also, in my experience it can make a very big difference to the ultimate successful delivery of the financial benefits if the CEO chairs the key meetings where she or he can look the “Benefit Owners” in the eye to ensure they commit to realising the benefits.

Building your Team of Teams

Once the High Spot Review (HSR) outputs and the initial business case have been signed off, you’ll have secured the go ahead to start delivering your business change or transformation programme. You are up and running!

If you’ve done the HSR work effectively you’ll have a clearly defined programme structure setting out the separate work streams or projects that you need to deliver the programme outcomes. You might, for example, have workstreams for Business Process Improvement, IT Estate Rationalisation, Communications and Change Management, New IT Applications Development and so forth. Or you might have broken the workstreams down in line with the key functions in your organisation, such as Finance Transformation, Human Resources (HR) Transformation etc. Whichever structure you’ve selected, the next key stage in team building is to appoint the right people to be the workstream or project leaders.

I think it is really important to define these as “leader” roles, rather than “project managers”. Don’t get me wrong, project managers and the disciplines of project management are critical, but you primarily want leaders in place who will own, shape, and deliver their areas of responsibility, not just “build a project plan and manage it”. But just to emphasise, you do need both leadership and project management skills in your team of teams.

If at all possible, you should try to appoint key people seconded from the business to be your work stream leaders. Particularly for the work streams that have the most direct impact on the business. Again, if you’ve done the HSR work effectively you’ll almost certainly have identified and engaged with people in the business who show the spark of interest, initiative and passion to change the business for the better. It is worth fighting hard to secure the best people you can find to be taken out of their ‘day jobs’ to help you deliver the programme. This will probably be painful in the short term for the business units in question, but it will pay massive dividends later on, when that leader ensures that a good solution, fit for purpose, is delivered. And your best people from the business will have the credibility with their colleagues to secure buy-in for the new ways of working, tools and processes.

One of the most rewarding experiences as a management consultant is when you find a good person from the business to lead a work stream, who then grows and develops in that role, building new skills and experiences, and thus becomes even more valuable to the business when they return to their line role on completion of the programme.

In the very early stages of delivery, the Programme Director should give very close, hands-on support to the workstream leads to help them select and appoint the right people to join their teams. Lots of practical advice, guidance and, frankly, sharing openly, between the workstream lead and the Programme Director, the pros and cons of specific people, will pay off handsomely when you start to feel the real power of an effective team of teams.

In order to keep this article to a manageable size, I won’t cover in detail all the typical team roles you need to fill, but I will summarise some of the more pivotal ones, as follows.

  • Communications Lead:  The person, either reporting directly to the Programme Director or on a ‘dotted line’ basis to the organisation’s communications department, who will lead, shape and deliver your communications campaign – which is always crucial for a transformation programme to be successful!
  • Finance Team: Project or Management Accountants and Financial Controllers – the key people in the finance team who will support or work alongside the workstream leads to ensure their project finances are under control.  And also, those who will work with the Steering Board Benefit Owners to ensure there is an agreed financial baseline and then put clear mechanisms in place to measure the realisation of benefits.
  • Key Users and Change Champions: the key people who you must get involved at the outset in requirements gathering and analysis, and who will help you in designing and/or selecting solutions.  They’ll support you in running user acceptance testing and user training, and they will ultimately be your key ambassadors on the office or factory floors when the new process, organisation and technology changes are rolled out.

In the next article in the series – Delivering Outcomes – I’ll talk in more detail about how the individual workstream leads, and these key support roles outlined above, ensure you will deliver your transformation programme effectively.

Team Building Techniques

I’ve talked so far about the basic makeup of the three interconnected teams you need for a successful transformation: Core Delivery Team; Executive Team; and your Team of Teams.  And I’ve focused on the key roles and the types of people you should appoint to these roles.

You will also need to give some careful thought to the wider team dynamics as you establish these teams.  You should try to make sure there is a range of different personality types across the team. Avoid the risk, conscious or subconscious, of building the team entirely in your own image.  For example, you’ll need a range of people who are good at processing data and making judgements based on the facts – and they are often, but not always, the more introverted types. You’ll also need some people who are more intuitive, expressive and naturally extroverted.   I think it is always good to have a mix of people who will create a positive, creative tension within your team. You need to feel sometimes that you are being pushed out of your personal comfort zone in order to find the best possible solution to problems.

I can think of a number of situations where a true maverick personality has been a very important member of the team: someone who goes out of their way to ‘break the rules’ in order to get something done; who is very happy to tackle the status quo, and shake things up.   I’ve seen this very effectively at the very technical end of the spectrum – for example, a maverick who sorted out a major printing technology challenge in three months flat, when the previous team had been mulling over the options, and making no progress, for over a year!

I’ve also seen it at the other end of the spectrum – stakeholder engagement and business change management.  The person I have in mind was on my team, and would alway interrupt the flow of a meeting to put their latest innovative idea across.  It often disrupted my well structured agenda! But about 8 times out of 10 their ideas would be great for unblocking a resistant area of the business, or helping to “bang heads together” to solve a particular issue.

As I mentioned in the Getting Started article, you might also want to select at least one sceptic, or outright detractor, to be on your team.   I recall on a major central government IT-enabled transformation programme, we persuaded the client’s user acceptance test manager to become a key part of a joint supplier/customer testing team.  He was extremely resistant at first, having had a terrible experience of poor quality delivery from suppliers, and his feeling that we, one of those suppliers, were trying to trick him into compromising his focus on quality.   However, following a six month trial, where he had played a very active role in establishing the joint testing approach, he became a major advocate, you could even call him an evangelist, for the joint approach. From then onwards, new releases of the IT solution were much higher quality and all delivered on time.

The other very useful concept I always apply when I’m building teams is: Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing (FSNP).   This is a well established way of thinking about team dynamics. If you’re particularly interested, you can read more about it at: Wikipedia – Tuckman

I tend to think of FSNP in very simple terms.   The first stage of bringing a team together – Forming – is relatively straightforward, involving the hygiene factors of introducing people to each other and sharing experiences to date – the process of your team members starting to get to know each other.

You will then almost certainly quickly go into the Storming stage, as you start to tackle specific challenges thrown up by the transformation programme you’re working on.  This Storming stage is likely to involve disagreements between team members, misunderstandings, ambiguities, personality clashes and so forth. However, with good, emotionally intelligent leadership of the group, you can break through this stage as people start to understand each other’s motivations and see that there is value in having such a variety of different personality types, experiences and opinions.  This is the Norming stage.

As this joint realisation of the value of diversity of opinion and experience starts to take hold more firmly, you will move into the Performing stage. The Performing stage is when the whole of the team becomes more effective than the sum of the parts.

A shrewd team leader will also know that a high performing team is likely to go through multiple cycles of FSNP.  This can happen, for example, when a new team member comes on board. Or you might start storming again when you move from one major stage to the next, e.g. shifting from requirements gathering to design, and so forth.

The deliberate approach of building a mixed set of personalities into your team can be underpinned by a range of formal personality assessment techniques, such as Belbin, Myers-Briggs and equivalents.  I’d never recommend using these techniques as the primary basis for initial team selection, but I would very strongly recommend using them as part of your approach to improving the performance of the team.  For example, these techniques can be very useful to help you get through the Storming stage and into the Norming and Performing stages as swiftly as possible.

These techniques typically involve each person answering, privately, a series of questions on a structured questionnaire.  The questionnaires are then processed using the algorithms for the particular personality assessment approach, and each person will then receive an output identifying their key personality traits.  For example, under the Belbin approach – which defines nine types of team role – I typically come out as a Co-ordinator and a Monitor Evaluator. Under the Myers-Briggs approach I’m usually assessed as an “ISTJ”.  All the different personality types are important, none are “better than the others”. But I can assure you that a project team entirely consisting of ISTJs will not succeed! If you’d like to know what ISTJ and other Myers-Briggs terms mean, follow this link: Wikipedia – Myers–Briggs

I’ve used both Belbin and Myers-Briggs on several occasions to help move my team into the Performing stage.   It is great to use it as part of an off-site team building exercise, perhaps a few months after you’ve established your team of teams.  As well as providing fascinating insights into the characters and personalities of your team members, it is a great way to break the ice, knock down barriers and ensure your people genuinely feel like they are part of a team that wants to deliver successfully.

Other key team building points to think about

Team building, maintaining and refreshing, is a fascinating subject and one of the areas where you can always learn more. In brief, here are some other key areas you might have to think about in the context of teams:

Inheriting a team – this happens more often than you might think, and is one of the most positively challenging part of team building. In my own career I’ve inherited, amongst others: consulting teams as their new line manager; transformation teams made up entirely of external contractors; small teams of expert architects at the start of a radically restructured programme which was massively behind schedule and running over budget!. Of course, every situation is different, but the key lesson I’ve learnt is to spend time with each team member, understand their background, motivations, and what they think is both right and wrong with the current approach. Give yourself a bit of time, maybe a week or so, to absorb as much as you can, and then start to apply structure, direction and focus to the team’s work. Be a very visible leader.

Refreshing your team – by choice or unplanned! I think it is always risky to keep the same team in place for too long. Individuals, and the team as a whole, can get stuck in their ways and cease to be innovative. My best advice is to create your own succession plan for your transformation team. For example, look for opportunities to take team leaders out of delivery roles to go into ‘business as usual’ to run the new service you’ve delivered; at the same time, see if you can promote a high performer in the delivery team into that vacant leadership role. You should also be ready for unplanned changes. I’ve faced several instances where a team member decided to leave the business to pursue other career options. Don’t panic! Use this as an opportunity to, for example, promote a subordinate into the role, or perhaps think about a more radical shake up of people between teams.

Blending your teams with your own staff, consultants and contractors. In all my years as a consultant, by far the most effective delivery arrangements are where a small number of very experienced consultants or contractors form part of a team with the client. This is so much better than creating an ‘us and them’ situation with consulting teams being entirely separate from the client. It also means that this thing called “skills and knowledge transfer” that consultants often offer, is actually practically delivered. It is much more effective for a member of staff to learn from a consultant in their team, using them as a role model, learning by doing, and taking advantage of the natural coaching process that occurs when the consultant and the client are “in it together”.

Working for poor leaders or dysfunctional teams. Thankfully I’ve not had to endure this experience too often, but I’m glad I’ve experienced it a few times. It is very good for the soul, and for your professional development, to experience, at first hand, what it is like working for a poor leader or manager. My best advice? Don’t put up with it for long. See if you can tackle it by being a better role model yourself to see if the poor leader improves by following your example; perhaps in some instances tackle it head on and raise specific concerns with the manager in question and push for a good resolution. But don’t get dragged down for too long if none of these approaches work. Find a way to get out and start afresh.

Wrap Up

As I said up front, building and maintaining teams is one of the positive challenges I enjoy most in my professional life.  It’s one of the areas where you cannot help but learn new lessons every time. No two people are the same, and it is a great pleasure to go through the forming-storming-norming-performing (FSNP) process and see individuals and the team really start to perform beyond your initial expectations.

If I had to boil all of this team building advice into the top three points to remember, they would be:

  1. Start building your core team from day one.
  2. If you are delivering a major transformation programme think from an early stage about building all three of the key teams:
    1. Your Core Delivery Team
    2. The programme Executive Team – aka the Steering Board
    3. Your Team of Teams.
  3. Recognise the value of different personality types and make sure you establish a good balance across your team of teams.

I hope my advice and experience have helped you to think about your own situation and to focus on how you can build effective teams, and a team of teams to deliver your change or transformation initiative.

If you’d like to see other articles in the practical business transformation series, please click here.

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And finally, please look out for the next article in the practical business transformation series: Delivering Outcomes.