By Luigi Morsa
According to a common and general definition, Team Management can be seen as the ability of an individual (manager) or of an organization to lead a group of people to accomplishing a task or common goal. Managing a team is definitely something really difficult because in addition, for instance, to the technical complexity of the topic, there is the challenge to coordinate people with different personalities, knowledge, background and even culture with the purpose of making the team work in an efficient way.
Team Management definitely represents the key to the success of a company, because a company is made of teams and all the programmes/tasks are carried out by teams. Good management of a team means to do the best by and for the employees. This implies good performance, optimistic mood, having a fertile environment for new ideas, effective team cooperation, so in a nutshell: only benefits.
Academic literature and the web are full of interesting articles giving reasonable and shareable advice to inspire the leaders. Among the others, I would mention the following hints: Focus on serving rather than managing, Don’t always assume you’re right, Make transparency a priority, Be open to change ; Give constructive feedback—both positive and negative, be approachable, be willing to learn when you are away from the team .
Even though the advice that can be given is precious, most of the time, the reality is much more complex and not all the guidelines cover all the situations. We can also say that it is almost impossible to generalize, for whatever attempt is made, an exception can be found.
So, I would say that the first step is to understand the individualities that compose the team. This is important not only to have a better idea in assigning the tasks, but also to identify the ways to get along with them. Not all the employees are skilled at the same level; the challenge is to make them all work in the same productive way and to pursue new ways when the tasks have to be tailored for some of the team members. A good relationship with all employees is also the precondition to creating a good mood in a team. The secret to get along with all the team member is to have patience in accepting mistakes (as long as it’s proper); it is extremely important to avoid arguing with people; on the contrary, one of the most important tasks is to calm the nerves of the team members.
Furthermore, it is recommended that in order to do our best we should always be in a good mood and be willing to have a small chat, speaking about the topics that the team members like; each of us has different interests and we should adapt our conversations to the people we lead. The heterogeneity of a team is definitely something positive. We must take into account the diversity of knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as age, gender, and race, which can help teams be more creative and avoid groupthink .
Regarding the right size of a team, it has been experienced that a good number is around 10. For instance in the Agile Scrum Methodology  it is recommended to have 10 or fewer people in a team. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, likes to use the “two-pizza rule” for strategy and development teams. If it takes more than two pizzas to feed (with a slice) the team, the team is likely too big. However, to be fair, Bezos didn’t invent the term; it seems to have first appeared at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s. It is worth to highlight that Xerox PARC during the 1970s invented three of modern computing’s key pillars: the graphical user interface, printer languages and local area networking. This alone is a good reason to pay attention to the two-pizza rule . The risk with larger teams is that they can be more vulnerable to poor communication, fragmentation, and free riding due to a lack of accountability .
Another important part of Team Management is getting team members to participate in technical topics and issues. There should be established a good level of trust, otherwise the life on a team will become hard. The respect of the professional is something really important. Being suspicious or sceptical in any situation leads over time to wearing out/compromise of the good relationship. A recurring question about this topic is how engaged the leader should be in all the technical team´s activities.
I would try to answer this question with one chart. As depicted in the picture below, there is have a team with a variety of areas of competences and for each of them there is a continuity range of tasks from easy to complex. The idea is that for the most critical issues the leader should be always present. The reason relies on the fact that it is essential for the leader to have a full awareness about the difficulties faced by the team members. In this way the benefits are numerous: the leader´s attitude will be appreciated by the team members and at the same time the leader will be more able to report at higher management level the status of some activities and in case it is necessary to justify delays.
An aspect that, unfortunately most of the time, is neglected is the individual development of the team members. This is one, together with “output” and “collaborative ability”, of the three criteria proposed by J. Richard Hackman to evaluate the team effectiveness . Hackman was a pioneer in the field of organizational behaviour who began studying teams in the 1970s; he should be the starting point for acquiring knowledge in the field of team leading. To an individual, development is associated with career planning and activities like performance management. A showing of deep caring about all of this is highly recommended to a team leader.
And, last but not least, I would mention Decision making. In general, just to simplify and generalize, two Leadership approaches are possible: Autocratic and Democratic. Two perfect examples of this are from one extreme Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) and from another extreme Tim Cook (current Apple CEO) and Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft). Steve Jobs’ leadership style was autocratic; he had a meticulous eye for detail and surrounded himself with like-minded people to follow his lead . Under the direction of Bill Gates, employees have independence and opportunities to manifest their creative potential. When making decisions, he relied not only on his experience but also on his employees’ opinions . Cook made an immediate point to stress transparency and teamwork within the Apple organization. Cook tends to have a very calm way of being, he inspires his employees through an open-door policy and by encouraging a collaborative environment . The Autocratic Leadership style should not be perceived as something necessarily negative. In times of stress or emergency, some subordinates may actually prefer an autocratic style – they prefer to be told exactly what to do. Steve Jobs preferred the autocratic style to enable faster decisions. When in September 1997 Steve Jobs was appointed the ‘interim CEO’ of Apple, the company had losses amounted to $ 1.6 billion. The company needed a charismatic leader who could steer it back to profitability . Then everyone knows the history: Steve made a successful business out of creating products like iPod, iPad and iPhones, introducing the touch screen interfaces to the masses. Probably with a pure democratic management style, Apple would have never reached these results in the time they did. Even though, as proved by Steve Jobs, a company can be led by an autocratic approach, in the case of a small team, it is highly recommended to use a more democratic approach. Visionary impulse is not needed, and therefore it is better to involve, as much as possible, all the team members in the decisions making process., This will help to maintain high employee motivation and to build and keep a good relationship, which is vital for the productivity of a team.
- Indeed Editorial Team, “8 Effective Team Management Skills Every Manager Should Know”, indeed.com, June 29, 2022.
- Ashley Bell, “14 Essential Team Management Skills for First-Time Managers”, snacknation.com, 2022.
- Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen, “The Secrets of Great Teamwork”, Harvard Business Review, June 2016.
- Schwaber, K. and M. Beedle, “Agile Software Development with Scrum”, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 2002.
- Rich Karlgaard, “Team Management: Think Small and Agile”, forbes.com, Nov 13, 2013.
- Hackman, J. R. The design of work teams. In J. Lorsch (Ed.), Handbook of organizational behavior (pp. 315-342). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987.
- Richard Branson, “Virgin’s Richard Branson: Apple boss Steve Jobs was the entrepreneur I most admired”, The Telegraph, 06 October 2011.
- Study Corgi Editorial Team, “Leadership Styles: The Example of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs”, studycorgi.com, May 21st, 2022.
- Admin of marketcap.com, “How Does Tim Cook’s Management Style Differ from Steve Jobs? (AAPL)”, 22/03/2021.
- Custom Writings Editorial Team, “The Autocratic Style of Leadership | Apple Inc”, customwritings.co, 2022.
Dr. Luigi Morsa
Consultant and Trainer, International Institute for Learning
Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Experienced Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in the Aircraft Industry. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. Luigi wrote two cases studies about the Aircraft industry for Project Management Case Studies, 5th and 6th Editions (Wiley, 2017, 2022) and two sections (Open Innovation in Action; The Project Manager’s Role in Developing Innovation Skills and Ideas in People) and the chapter “Innovation Management Software” for Innovation Project Management 1st and 2nd editions (Wiley, 2019, 2022).
Recently has wrote together with Richard Maltzman, PMP and adjunct professor at Clark University (Boston), the chapter “10 Lessons Learnt from Irresponsibility in Project Management” for the book De Gruyter Handbook of Responsible Project Management (De Gruyter, 2022).
He is a contributor for the IIL blog; he has written the articles: Agile. Creativity. Innovation. (2022); Reduce the Risk – Share the Success (2022), “Managing Conflicts in Projects” (2021); “Chess and Business Strategy” (2020); “People Innovation: A New Vision to Innovate” (2019).