IMD International


Creating virtuoso teams

By Professor William A. Fischer (July, 2006)

Excerpt from webcast: Lessons from great teams that changed their world (2:30)

Assemble a team of talented professionals. Virtuosos in their fields. Then let them loose to fulfill their promise. Tricky to manage? Maybe. Top results? Virtually guaranteed. Here's a recipe for team success. Just make sure the chef is talented!

Forget current management practice
Despite lofty goals and hopes, most regular teams achieve modest results at best. Far too frequently they fail to deliver their initial goals and aspirations. Why? We believe that failure lies at the inception. Contemporary management advocates empowerment, harmony, and consensus. In fact, this stifles what teams achieve from the outset.

Be rude but right
Polite teams get polite results. Virtuoso Teams are neither polite, nor democratic. Instead, they frequently house unvarnished honesty, strong egos, straight talk, and confrontation. This inspires team members to push the limits of thinking into radical new territory. A condition for success, however, is a high level executive “sponsor” who supports and promotes rather than constrains.

Only accept the best
Virtuoso Teams must contain only the best talent obtainable. “Obtainable” is the key word here. Not available. Don’t settle for second best. Average talent generally leads to average results. At the end of the day, it’s the power of the best people you want to rely on. Especially if big change is your objective.

I’s not we’s
Virtuoso Teams are more than simply a collection of great talent. They appreciate individual skills within a team context. Team leaders must balance the individual and the group. Emphasizing the individual – the “I” – directly challenges much of today’s popular “we-ness”. But the latter rarely achieves the radical change you need.

Forget democracy
Maybe you think solo performances, improvisation, and creative license – along with big egos and personal risk – are managerial nightmares. Possibly true. But when radical change is key they’re an acceptable cost. Virtuoso Teams require directive, even authoritarian, leadership at times: they are not about democracy.

Talk straight
Virtuoso teams operate in an intensely personal context with maximum direct dialogue. Participants must be in close physical proximity and cannot rely on e-mails or office memos. Only in this open, direct give-and-take environment can their ideas be conveyed, hammered out, and finally acted upon. The leadership process, purposefully creating a pressure cooker, can be as tough as it is productive.

Listen hard
Despite the authoritarian approach, there is one golden ingredient you as manager must never forget: listen closely. Appreciate and nurture talent if you want it to soar. Listen to the all-stars you spent so much time assembling. Expertise deserves respect. You’ll find that you get back what you put in.

The Virtuoso Team is a powerful way for generating radical new strategies and reinventing a firm. They are not for the long haul or modest improvement. The road to success may be paved with tricky virtuosos. But they’ll give you what you need – top results!

Professor Fischer is Director of the Driving Strategic Innovation program.


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