SOM Professor Mary Shapiro's HBR Guide to Leading Teams

February 25, 2016

Mary Shapiro

Mary Shapiro's new book, Harvard Business Review (HBR) Guide to Leading Teams, addresses challenges of leading teams through building infrastructures, team management, and closing out team projects.

This article first appeared in its entirety in the Fall 2015 SOM Management Magazine.

Building Your Team's Infrastructure

The first section of the book addresses the question of how to hold people accountable while still being transparent, direct, and consistent. Mary Shapiro gives you the tools to be able to understand and analyze how team members work together, how to achieve goals and address conflicts as they arise, all while keeping your team motivated and enhancing effectiveness altogether. 

The important first step, she suggests, is to state your goals, for both the individuals and the team. Make a contract that clearly states what is expected of each party and in what time frame. Building a "relational foundation" for working together may take time up front, but can save time and frustration down the road, says Mary.

She points out that your decisions as a team leader leave an impact on the group. If you are unorganized and purely reactionary, then it will trickle down to the rest of your team. Lack of infrastructure and communication can lead to missed deadlines, unorganized work, and overall poor results. Being proactive is not only the ability to anticipate the next action, but also to follow through at the end of the day. Perceiving how to get to the next step in the process and understanding the pattern of how your team works will cause you to constantly obtain the wanted results, whether with day-to-day tasks, or long-term responsibilities. 

Managing Your Team

Knowing when to address a problem on a team is always difficult; people often try to avoid inflaming issues or conflicts by beating around the bush, which can be counterproductive. 

"We smile and nod instead of proposing alternatives. We give in and do things 'their way.' We'll outright deny that conflicts even exist when asked (the 'Nothing's wrong - everything's great scenario). But on teams, conflicts are inevitable. To get out of the unsolved-conflict cycle of never being able to address what's really bothering you, you have to address the problem when in starts," says Mary Shapiro. 

Giving feedback is an important part of the process. Learning to adjust your approach to your various team members' styles, and to the challenges of a new project or assignment, can help with reaching your team's short and long term goals. Mary notes that flexibility is key. You can gain more when you let go of what you are comfortable with and have an open perspective. Part of the wonders of working with a team is pushing boundaries and developing plans with input and ideas from a diverse group of people. 

Closing Out Your Team

So you finished a project and are now getting ready to start the next one. Are you confident with the finished product? Can you repeat the same results? Did you cut corners to get it done on time? Do you know what worked and what didn't? Mary emphasizes the importance of reflecting on how each step of the process worked, and suggests marking down your shortcomings and strengths as a team. Be sensitive to these areas when your future projects are underway.

When the bulk of the work is done, the leader of an effectively-managed team will understand the members' working styles, and where everyone's expertise lies. The last step is to tweak and adjust the structure to find an equilibrium. "You don't want to experience the same bottlenecks, for example, or the same decision-making process create 'winners' who dominate and 'losers' who drag their feet, says Mary. 

HBR Guide to Leading Teams

Mary Shapiro's Five Tenets of Effective Teams

  1. It is essential to build an infrastructure for a team upfront to facilitate a more efficient and successful implementation of the task.
  2. Team building is not exotic or ephemeral. It is a series of intentional conversations that build the elements of infrastructure, namely team goals, norms, and roles.
  3. The challenge of team building is getting individual members with diverse needs, behaviors and goals all “on the same page.” But it is that alignment that preempts conflict down the road when members operate under different assumptions, and facilitates smooth task implementation.
  4. When setting up infrastructure and then managing themselves, teams must focus on both behaviors that facilitate actual task work, and behaviors that enable people to work well together. Good task outcomes require good relationships. Teams must take care of both aspects of teamwork.
  5. Team members must hold each other accountable for both contributing to the task and for contributing to productive relationships. Feedback, an essential part of the continuous improvement process, must be done throughout the project timeline (not just at the end) as it permits individuals and the team to adjust behaviors, team norms, and task activities in real-time as needed to move forward.

Click here to read the full article in Management Magazine.