Lessons From The Pitch: 9 Steps to Building a Top-Notch Team

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How is your pitch being developed?

Are you ready for your pitch? This past weekend I became fascinated with the TV show The Pitch on AMC.

The Pitch gives an inside view of advertising agencies. Each week, two agencies compete to win a new client by giving a presentation called the Pitch.

It gives a close-up view of the brainstorming process as they seek that moment of inspiration that will win them the job. To add drama to the mix, they are given just seven (7) days to prepare, so the pressure to perform is intense.

Analyzing the team effectiveness

Not being much of a TV watcher, I finally found something that I find intriguing.

We have all been in meetings looking for ideas and inspiration. To be able to watch someone else do this, and to simply be the fly on the wall, satisfied the urge to be a Monday morning quarterback. We can sit on our couches and say that this is a dumb idea, or, we can say that this is a great idea.

As the teams prepared, I noticed problems with timelines, last minute adjustments, and my pet peeve, waiting to the last minute. How the sessions were managed was also insightful.

As managers, one of the most important roles that we play within the organization is team management, team development, and team effectiveness. This is a tall order because teams are comprised of different personalities, motivations, and desires.

Team building is based on the team and not the individual. Team building can be achieved through a wide range of activities from simple bonding situations, to complex simulations, to retreats designed to develop a team.

Team building can also be seen in the daily operations of an organization, and successful teams always can be improved through successful leadership.

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The main focus of team building

Team building is an important factor in any environment. The main focus should be:

  • self development;
  • positive communication;
  • leadership skills;
  • the ability to work closely together as a team to problem solve.

It was apparent after watching a few of the episodes of The Pitch that a few of these teams were operating at optimum efficiency, churning along like a well-tuned engine. It was also apparent that some of the teams were badly dysfunctional. Going from effectiveness to being the poster child of this dysfunction was there for all to see.

Cast the team like a movie

So how do we make our teams more effective?

I remember a friend of mine who throws the most interesting dinner parties. The model, she said, is to go at it like the casting director of a movie: Each character is important and each one is selected for their role and the contributions that they will make in making the film a success. Each character should bring their unique perspective and diverse thinking to make the cast stronger as a whole.

Here are the steps to building a top-notch, effective team:

  1. Selection — This is the most important step. Treat it as such. Remember you are casting for a shared purpose. You can head off most of the problems that teams face by working hard on who is on the team. Getting this step right at the beginning increases the chances that your team will not only work well together, but that it will deliver on the task it was set out to do.
  2. Destination — What is the goal? Where are you headed? A common sense of purpose unites the team and lays the groundwork within the context of how each member contributes.
  3. Team structure — Make sure that the structure empowers team members. Make sure that expectations are shared by the team. Always remember that it is about the team effectiveness and NOT the individual.
  4. Access and Support — Effective teams are most effective when they have organizational support. The successful team of the series had the CEO and his team in on their brainstorming meetings. They played an active role. This may not be do-able in lots of situation, but having that support from on high goes a long way to building a cohesive unit.
  5. Building relationships — Relationships must not only focus within the unit but outside relationships are just as important: other individuals, other teams, and the organization.
  6. Monitoring — Always make sure that external factors are constantly monitored. Monitoring and analyzing information about the external environment is relevant to the destination and gives you the ability to make adjustments as necessary.
  7. Keep the goal in sight –-Don’t forget that effective teams all begin with a purpose and also end with that purpose in sight at all times.
  8. Debrief — One of the fascinating things about The Pitch was the ability for viewers to be a fly on the wall during the discussions. I am sure that once each group viewed the footage of how their team operated, adjustments were made. The lesson? Once your project is completed, spend a good amount of time debriefing the successes and failures, and document your findings to be more effective next time.
  9. Document — Once the debrief is complete, document the model and let that process be the framework of not only new teams, but to also help make the current teams more effective.

So as you prepare for your next pitch, the most important step you can take is getting the team structure right, managing the team, and accessing the effectiveness throughout, and at the end, of the process.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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