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Moving a Team Forward

Part four in a four-part series on strategies for building a highly effective senior team.
University Business, Sep 2006

Note: This column revisits a series that we began last year on effective team building. The prior installments, which ran in November 2005, January 2006, and March 2006, are available online at (see Back Issues).

Understanding the essential qualities of effective teams is not only useful in forming a team, but also in moving the team forward in an effective manner. The following actions are recommended:

Effective teams don't have slackers. While not everyone may have the same ability, they should have the same level of commitment.

Over time, however, it may become apparent that one team member (or more) is not applying himself or herself. What happens next will indicate whether or not you have a truly effective team.

Measuring progress is a
means through which
you can show results to
a sometimes-doubting
campus community.

If you ignore the underperforming member, your team is not effective. If the leader steps forward and deals with the underperforming team member, you are not effective.

But if the other team members step up and begin to diagnose the problem, then your team is likely effective. If the lagging team member is overwhelmed, others might lend resources or retask. Or they might suggest that this member be given a lighter load while they deal with a particular issue or challenge. This peer-to-peer intervention is the sign of a truly effective team.

Sometimes the person who is not performing is simply not committed to the goal or activity that the team agreed to. If this is the case, the person must be removed from the team.

Effective senior teams understand how important it is to manage the midranks of administrators and staff. To do so, three things must happen. First, as noted earlier, the senior team must make sure that the middle managers in their departments and divisions work cooperatively, share resources, and support the middle managers in other divisions. This will require constant oversight and intervention to help undo years of silo-based behaviors.

Second, the senior team members must manage their gatekeepers. The administrative assistants of team members must understand how important it is to cooperate with their peers across the institution. These professionals often assume the cloak of their bosses and can, occasionally, act imperially. All of us have seen administrative assistants who intentionally or unintentionally derail or delay projects that have been decided upon at the highest echelons of the institution. Effective senior teams will not tolerate this behavior.

Third, to manage the middle, identify middle managers who might someday be members of the senior team or even the team leader. You must be their rabbi, someone who helps advance their career by giving them special opportunities and resources. One of the most accomplished VPs for advancement in the country started 27 years ago at that institution as a secretary. Talent is all around. Take the time to grow it.

Effective senior teams, like their sports counterparts, keep score. They know that measuring progress is essential to their success for a number of reasons. First, it increases accountability. Second, it evidences a commitment to stewardship. Third, it is a means through which you can show results to a sometimes-doubting campus community. Fourth, it is an opportunity to check your course and retool where necessary. Finally, measurement is a critical element in an effective reward system.

The rationale for rewarding effective teams and team members is simple. If a senior team contributes at a high level to the success of an organization, if members endure the mantle of responsibility and accountability, if they often overlook individual goals for the greater good, then they deserve to be rewarded well. If they are not, if their contributions are overlooked, they will eventually ask this question: Why bother?

I don't believe that effective teams are motivated solely by dollars. But increasingly, dollars are one way that team members keep score. Maslow aside, effective team members need to know they are appreciated. This is especially true for in-demand senior administrators who have lots of options. Leaders seeking to develop and sustain an effective team need to acknowledge this reality.

Acknowledgement by peers is a major source of fuel for effective team members.

While dollars matter, other forms of reward matter as well. A talented senior team member who wants to return to graduate school could be rewarded with a flexible schedule. A nearly burned-out team member might relish a sabbatical even though sabbaticals are not formally awarded to administrators. Another might find reward in an expansion of her duties, another in having his duties reduced, others in having their duties narrowed. Many different types of rewards are available, but it takes a caring leader to identify the rewards that matter most to his or her team and its members.

A couple of final thoughts about rewards: First, the leader of the team must be willing to absorb the criticism that will come from people-faculty, staff, administrators, even trustees and community residents-who are jealous of the reward system the leader has put in place. As long as the reward system focuses on truly stellar performance, the volume of arrows will, over time, diminish. The key is to make sure that only truly stellar performance is rewarded.

Second, as noted earlier, the reward system for one individual on the senior team cannot conflict with the reward system of either the larger team or other individuals on the team. Remember, competition is toxic.

Campus celebrations are not a new idea. When a fundraising goal is reached, or a new facility is opened, galas are held. What I am proposing here is a different kind of celebration. It is a celebration among teammates that something important has transpired. When a team, or an individual on that team, overcomes long odds or turns a double into a home run, the team members need to take the time to acknowledge the event. It is this acknowledgement by peers that is a major source of fuel for effective team members.

Michael Ferrari, the former president of Texas Christian University, once told me that it's hard to imagine how a college or university can thrive in today's competitive and changing environment without the shared enthusiasm, energy, and passions of both leaders and their followers.

He concluded by saying that inspired people working together will be the architects of the great universities of the 21st century.

It's clear that Ferrari understands the value of the team.

Robert Sevier a senior VP at Stamats Communications, is the author of Building a Brand That Matters: Helping Colleges and Universities Capitalize on the Four Essential Elements of a Block-Buster Brand, available from

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