Will a Team Succeed? Now, There’s a Way to Know

Gene Tange, who is best known as the former CHRO of Dignity Health (revenue $10 billion), has moved to developing technology for team analytics. He argues that HR is overly focused on individuals whereas success depends on teams.

That’s a good start, but it gets really interesting when he takes the next step and says that the most important question you can ask about a team is whether it will achieve its goals or fail to do so. This is dreadfully simple and also one of the most useful things I’ve heard in a long time.

In HR, we would tend to focus first on the internal dynamics of the team. Those dynamics matter, but that is not the business issue, the business issue is whether they’ll reach their goals and in HR we need to learn to always, always start with the business issue.

There is another implication in Tange’s formulation of “the most important question” about teams. He presumes that teams have a well-defined business deliverable. We are not dealing with a vague notion of “effective teams,” we’re dealing with a team that is meant to do something specific like get a new CRM up and running or reduce defects by 30% or open a sales office in Chennai.

Again, it’s pretty simple, but it’s not normally what HR puts front and center.

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If you like this idea, how do you go about predicting which teams will fail? The answer, which should be a default for HR these days, is to look at the data. Tange’s answer (and to give him credit he’s embodied this in software: see PearlHPS) is to look at three factors;

  • The quality of team leadership (if you don’t have good leaders the team is unlikely to succeed).
  • The continuity of the team membership (if the team composition is always changing you are unlikely to succeed).
  • The “goal load” on the team members (if someone is on 10 different teams then they won’t be contributing fully to any of them).

I like these factors because it’s easy for managers to understand them, and you can gather data on each of them.

There are an overwhelming number of tools to assess individuals;  it’s refreshing to see some software to assess teams.  It’s even more refreshing when it’s approached from the business perspective, not an HR perspective.

What is interesting?

  • It’s interesting how we all know that teams are important yet still end up building most of our HR processes to focus on individuals. Why is that?

What is really important?

  • HR has to force itself to constantly frame things from the business’s perspective and to back up its recommendations with data and analytics. PearlHPS is a good example of what this looks like.
  • Teams frequently fail and often it’s not that much of a surprise; the warning signs were there. We need to build some rigor into our processes so that we don’t invest in teams that are likely to fail because one or more key factors needed for success aren’t there. HR should be the one standing up and saying, “Look, the data shows it’s not going to work so let’s not waste our time and money on this project until we can get the team sorted out.”

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought Indeed.com for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.



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