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Interview: William E. Perry - Author iTeams – Putting the “I” Back Into Team

Posted by Ben Linders on May 23, 2011 |

Many books have been written about teams and team working – but very few pay attention to the needs of individual team members. This book does, and describes how you can build an effective team with individuals. It covers both individual and team needs, and provides many solutions on how to blend them. Its active voice stimulates the reader to do things, get your teams started quickly, and continuously improve your effectiveness as a team.

The book also covers many of the challenges of team working, like selecting team leaders, setting up the team, building trust in teams, avoiding groupthink, and rewarding individual team members. It describes the view point of individual team members when faced with challenges in their daily work, and provides solutions to handle them.

After reading the book, I had the opportunity of interviewing the author William E. Perry. We discussed how he blended the individual and team needs in his book, and talked about the main challenges that teams have, and ways to deal with these challenges.

Ben Linders: Why did you pick this topic, focusing on the Individual in the Team? Why is it so important?

William E. Perry: Many teams that I have seen over the years were not effective. They didn’t take their responsibility, and also sometimes people didn’t want to be on the team. One of the differences that I saw when comparing software teams to sport teams was that software team members didn’t have the feeling that their contribution was really valued. Therefore my book gives lots of practical advice on how to better organize teams, and how to motivate team members. It makes it clear that you need to have somebody in charge of the team, and have roles assigned to team members to make sure that the team remains effective. The book approaches team working from both the needs of the individual team members, and of the team as a whole.

Ben Linders: Challenge 3 of your book is about “Selecting team members”. A problem that I see in many organizations, due in large part to the recent financial crisis, is that when it comes to select team members you pretty much have to work with who-ever is available. Can you recommend ways to steer, or have influence on which people get selected to your team?

William E. Perry: First let me state that getting the wrong people on a team can quickly destroy it. You don’t want that to happen. Therefore as a team leader, you have to be persistent regarding the people that are assigned to your team. If you know somebody that you really need on your team, then ask those responsible in the organization to make this person available. And, with respect to undesirable team members, simply don’t accept people on the team that would not be able to contribute, this is not good for the team and also not good for the persons themselves.

Ben Linders: How can you motivate individuals that have been selected as “volunteers”, and didn’t want to be on the team in the first place?

William E. Perry: The best solution of course is to prevent them joining the team, but unfortunately that is not always possible. What helps the most is when an organization includes team working into the job profiles of their employees. This make everyone aware that team working is considered important, and that they will be judged on their cooperation in teams, and on their contribution towards team results. Peer pressure by other team members can also help by making everyone aware that they are accountable to each other. In addition, a good team leader must be willing to confront people upon joining their team and make sure that they are motivated to work hard towards achieving team goals.

Ben Linders: Challenge 5 of your book is about training team members. Budget and/or time for training is often very limited, which increases the problem if people on the team don’t have the right knowledge or team skills. Are there ways around this that you know are effective?

William E. Perry: If persons assigned to your team do not have the proper skills, and there are insufficient possibilities to train them, then you should not accept the team assignment. Many organizations still do not understand the importance of training. When you look at sport teams, then you see that they will spend 40 hours of training for 1 hour of playing. Also for software development teams, training is essential to make sure that team members can work effectively together. So when you as a team leader see a need for training on your team, you should address this immediately with your sponsor.

Ben Linders: Some common solutions for training, when there is no budget, is to pair people together, assign coaching roles inside the team, organize internal trainings, and use “free” training resources like webinars, on-line books and communities. While this partly solves the problem, it also introduces extra work and pressure on the experienced team members. What are your thoughts regarding these approaches?

William E. Perry: I agree with these solutions. Sometimes there are possibilities for team members to train other team members, which can help if you are on a tight budget. But no matter how limited the possibilities are, if team members are insufficiently trained then you should always discuss this with your sponsor and come to a solution.

Ben Linders: Challenge 9 is about “Assuring that team efforts are successful”: The chapter makes a statement that team members should take action, and finish things. What can team leaders do to motivate such behaviour, and to build a pro-active team?

William E. Perry: Team leaders should keep the team members focused on the objectives and the required outcomes. When necessary they should make it clear to team members when an action needs to be finished in order to reach their objectives. They should monitor their team members closely to see if things are left unfinished, and take immediate action. The excuse that is often made by team members for unfinished work is that they have insufficient time to do things. But this is almost never the real reason. In practice it often turns out that team members are unsure what is really needed, or don’t know how to do it. This is where you, or other team members can give support, to make sure that things can get done, and that team member are capable to do similar things in the future.

Ben Linders: Some common techniques for motivating team members to take action include acting as example (actually finish things), compliment people who take action, and emphasize that things won’t go away by themselves. . What are your thoughts regarding these techniques?

William E. Perry: Of course setting the example is always good, but it is no excuse for team members to leave things unfinished because others are also behaving in a similar way. Team members should be aware that endangering team objectives, by leaving things unfinished, is simply not acceptable.

Ben Linders: Which challenge from your book do you consider most difficult for teams? Why?

William E. Perry: The biggest challenge that teams often have is to understand the required outcome. This is essential for any team to stay focused. If they don’t understand what they will have to deliver, to whom, and why, it will be very difficult to organize the work, and find effective ways to work together. So whenever you find a team that is struggling, your first attention should be to check if the expected outcome is clear, and if it is not, then do whatever is necessary to make it clear!

Ben Linders: Thank you for your time and willingness to give this interview, and for all the practical advice your book offers to help team leaders and team members improve the ways they work together in teams.

William E. Perry: You’re welcome, and I wish you much success with your teams!

Conclusion

The thing that I like most about the book, “iTeam, putting the ‘Í‘ back into the team”, is that it focuses on the individual needs of team members and helps answer the question “What’s in it for me as a team member?”. At the same time these individual needs are balanced with the needs of the team, assuring that the team will be effective and able to deliver. I highly recommend this book to anybody working with or in teams. It will help you get started quickly with a team and continuously improve your effectiveness as a team.

About the Author

Ben Linders (www.benlinders.com) is a Senior Consultant on quality, process, and organizational improvement with more than 20 years experience implementing high maturity practices to improve performance and deliver business benefits.
Ben bridges the gaps between process deployment, quality assurance, and IT management by addressing business needs and the development of professionals.
He can be reached at BenLinders@gmail.com.

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