How to build a star team from a group of high performing individuals

By Will Larcombe, co-founder and director of Stellarmann.

  • Friday, 22nd March 2024 Posted 3 weeks ago in by Phil Alsop

70% of digital transformation projects fall short of their objectives, according to the Boston Consulting Group. In most cases, this isn’t because the individuals working on them don’t have the right skills. It’s because managing a large team of in-house and external employees is not easy.

I’ve worked alongside managers on IT transformation projects for more than a decade and have supported them through countless challenges. What’s struck me is that many of these are surprisingly close to those faced by leaders in the sports sector. Expectations are high, responsibility is heavy, and both change project managers and sports coaches have to assemble coherent, effective teams from groups of highly talented but very disparate people, selected from a variety of cultures and countries.

Our conversations with sports professionals have confirmed this view, and below I’ve provided a few pointers to successful team management, along with some examples from the world of sport.

Set the culture

The chances are that your digital transformation team will be a mixture of consultants, freelancers and in-house staffers, all used to doing things in their own particular way. If employed by a consultancy, they may have particularly strong views on methodologies. As a manager, your job is to lay down the rules right away to pre-empt any clashes between external and internal team members. 

This applies to everything from working habits to methodology. If your outsourced talent is not prepared to align with yours, it may be best to part company with them early. A “fit in or get out” attitude may sound harsh, but you can waste months dealing with problems if you don’t set out clear lines. 

Nurture team spirit 

Having set the ground rules, the next challenge for a manager is to create a sense of common goals and values. In a football team, players on loan are absorbed into the club culture as soon as they join – spending time with team-mates in the gym or the canteen and learning the different styles of the coaching staff. If you’re working with a hybrid team in a corporate world this is not quite so straightforward, but it’s essential to the success of the project that teams can collaborate to and create synergy. 

You may not be able to get everyone together in the same place very often, if at all, but you can set up regular calls and chat boards and encourage all types of worker and consultants to participate. If you are paying premium daily rates for consultants, it’s natural to feel that any time spent in non-essential conversation with teammates is an expensive extravagance, but in fact casual interactions between internal and external project teams remains an important way of immersing everyone in the same culture. 

Create harmony in the camp

Another element of a happy team is ensuring that everyone’s role is clear. Sports coaches know that it’s vital for each player to understand not only their own position, but also that of their teammates. In transformation projects, this step is too often overlooked. Without an understanding of the specific pressures that are facing colleagues, it’s easy for resentments to grow or impressions of unfair treatment to be harboured.

A RACI matrix for every aspect of a project can go a long way to addressing this. By establishing who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who needs to be Consulted and who Informed, you can avoid any confusion about how decisions need to be made. To make this work effectively, however, it must be communicated clearly to all members of the team so that nobody is tempted to strike out in their own direction.

Delegate to an assistant manager 

If culture, team spirit and harmony are sounding to you like desirable but distant dreams, remember that you don’t have to do all this alone. In the sports world, not only will a manager be surrounded by a team of assistant coaches, but loan players’ clubs will offer support too. A Premier League club will always provide an entire package to help with the fitness monitoring, physical conditioning, and mental preparedness of their player on loan. Similar support is available in the business world. 

A professional services provider should fulfil this assistant role for you by maintaining responsibility for the associates they are lending to your team. As well as holding regular meetings with each associate to monitor wellbeing, they should also provide training and coaching and act as a conduit for feedback in both directions. The closer the relationship you have with your provider, the more you will be able to delegate. 

Keep the goal in sight 

Our final tip from the sporting world is a simple one: make sure everyone in your team is aiming at the same goal. Sometimes this means taking more time to identify exactly what that goal is. In the world of digital transformation, we have a tendency to look at objectives in terms of technology; for example “digitise our paper records.” We should instead be thinking in terms of why we are doing this, which might be to improve interactions with our customers.

Doing this once is not enough. Team members need to feel that progress is being made if they are to maintain motivation, so set smaller milestones that are achievable and invest time in celebrating when you pass them. In practical terms this means regular team updates and reviews of every stage. For third party consultants you should always draw up a clear statement of work which includes deliverables and milestones. 

Winning teams

Getting the best from a group of highly talented people takes skill. No matter how brilliant each individual may be, it takes a strong leadership team to deliver a successful transformation. Your project will almost certainly involve third party consultants and employees from inside your organisation – so remember that that should apply to your management ecosystem too. 

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