I usually write about achieving the most from existing potential. This post is not an exception to that goal. You know I am a big proponent of great teamwork. That is also still the case. However, sometimes using a team is not the best direction to take.
Have you heard of the 20-60-20 rule? That is, 20% of people are go-getters, 60% are average or mediocre and the last 20% are slackers. Unless you have somehow managed to attract 100% of your people from the top 20% group (which is unlikely) your team is made up of this 20-60-20 breakdown.
With that knowledge consider this: Teams are designed to move forward together, generally by consensus. Consensus is driven by majority vote. Based on the 20-60-20 breakdown the absolute best you are going to get is average output. In the worst case scenario a team will only move as fast as the slowest person. Which means you will get less than average output. These issues will frustrate your top performers and can cause them to disengage.
It may sound like I am suggesting that you never use teams. That is certainly not the case. There are times when something can only be completed through team effort. It is important to know when that is the case and when it is not. If the work can be completed by one or two of your top performers, don’t assign it to a team. If there is a succession of work, don’t make the person who has to be involved at day 45 sit in all the meetings leading up her piece. Send all the information someone needs and none of what they don’t (a fine line to walk, certainly).
When a team is the right answer, keep in mind the 20-60-20 rule and remember the top 20% will produce more by themselves than they will if they have to work with the bottom 20%. For example: when an A student has to work in a group with a D student the A student can either accept that he will receive a C on the project or do all of the work himself. If your “A employee” is going to do all the work anyway, don’t make her share the recognition with a “D employee”.
Knowing your employees, their skills and where they fall on the 20-60-20 continuum will help you decide if forming a team is the right answer and who to put on the team. Combine that with the knowledge we have about building great teams and you can create something greater than the sum of its parts.
Have you ever been on a team that struggled with the 20-60-20 problem? What was the outcome?