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Management development feature: What about team competencies and learning?


This month sees the second in our monthly series of features on the subject of Management Development. Leading teamwork and management expert and co-founder of the CPD Business School Charles Margerison will be producing a series of these features over the coming months.

Do we pay too much attention to academics instead of practitioners when it comes to learning how to manage? We know that academics write more, but it is the practitioners who know from experience what goes on.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been manager of Manchester United for 15 years. His team has won the English Premiership, and the old first division title many times, plus the European Cup. He recently gave a speech in which he said, ‘In my business, togetherness is not just a nice concept that you can take or leave according to your tastes. If you don’t have it you are nothing. Selfishness, factionalism, cliquishness are all death to a football team.’

Of course, the same applies in the management of any business. However, when you look at what academics and many consultants serve up you wonder if they have ever managed anything or anyone. Take the current fad for measuring competencies. Many of them are making a fortune out of selling individual competency analysis. In one organization I visited, the Training Manager told me they had identified 122. If you covered 12 a year it would take 10 years to cover them all.

Yet, it is not individual competencies that make for success. Any football manager will tell you that. Every player is deemed competent before he puts on the shirt. It is competent team that counts. All teams need to transform their competence into performance.

In the work I have done on teamwork, I have found 9 major areas of competency that every team should focus upon. These are the work activities of :

  • Advising based on information skills
  • Innovating based on creative skills
  • Promoting based on marketing and sales skills
  • Developing based on planning skills
  • Organizing based on project skills
  • Producing based on delivery skills
  • Inspecting based on auditing skills
  • Maintaining based on service skills
  • Linking based on coordinating skills
  • Together with my colleague Dr Dick McCann, we have produced a measure, called The Team Performance Profile, to indicate how well a team is seen to be doing on each of these factors. It involves what is called the 360 approach where not only the team members assess the team, but also their clients and other colleagues. Only in this way can a team see how others respond to their work.

    Just as we measure a Companies performance so should each team have a measure. Only in this way can they systematically plan to improve. This brings me to the book that I read over the New Year break. It is called ‘Jack’, and reflects the views of Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric. That Company, under his leadership, became the largest in the world. He subtitles his book ‘ what I learned leading a great company and great people’.

    I like that subtitle. It highlights the importance of learning. A manager is only as good as what he or she learns each day and puts into practice to improve the situation. Jack Welch says that a major learning area for him was the importance of teamwork. He put special emphasis on appointing people who could lead teams, rather than just focus on technical competence. In short, he put team competence top of the list.

    Go to the major business schools and find how much attention they give teamwork. The system is still driven by individualism. Yet, in the real world of business, it is teams that make the difference. The training programmes provided nevertheless are still built around the notion of individual competencies. So, my view is that both business schools and the conventional training based on individual competencies are on the wrong track.

    The new ISO 9001:2000, due to be taken on board by companies in 2003, promises to address this issue by putting more focus on the people issues. However, in the documents I have seen there is no specific reference to teamwork. Nor does it address team learning. How can you have a top class quality system if you do not have a top quality team performing to its best, and top quality learning processes?

    I have addressed these and other issues in a new book called Team Leadership. The key factor in the book is how each person in a team links with the others. Without this there is little teamwork. You will, as Sir Alex Ferguson indicated, have a collection of talented individuals who do not achieve much as they do not work together.

    Therefore, I would like to see more focus on management development programmes that start with team development. That is, we start by focusing on the team in the design phase, rather than on the focus on training individuals in skills and then hoping they will work together. Let the starting point for more training be on the real tasks that a team does. Then have the team meet to problem solve, and to consider what they have learnt from experience. Then they should focus on what they need to do next in order to improve. It is a focus that I know from personal experience can make a big difference. For example, I have seen one team save over a quarter of a million in just 3 months by so doing. I will therefore return to this theme in future columns by looking at ways and means this can be done, starting with action learning.

    About the author

    Dr Charles Margerison is the founder of Team Management Systems, and Chairman of Value Projects and the CPD Business School. Previously he was Professor of Management at Cranfield University School of Management, and a Chief Executive of a Publishing Company.
    E-mail [email protected].


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