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30 October 2022

Recruit your alter ego

As business becomes more challenging, organisations are rediscovering the power of effective teams. It is not possible to wave a magic wand and create a high-performing, self-managed team overnight. A self-managed team needs to develop a culture of lifelong, individual and team learning. How do we best compose these hi performance teams?

When faced with a problem, a new project or an opportunity, it is a good idea to focus on the nine key success factors, which make the difference between a high-performing team and a low-performing team. These factors are arranged in a model of team tasks, known as the Types of Work Wheel. (Adapted from Team Management Systems Model)

The nine essential team activities as described in this model include:

Analyse – Gathering and reporting information

Innovate – Creating and experimenting with ideas

Promote – Exploring and presenting opportunities

Develop – Assessing and testing the applicability of new approaches

Organise – Establishing and implementing ways of making things work

Produce – Concluding and delivering outputs

Inspect – Controlling and auditing the working of systems

Maintain – Upholding and safeguarding standards and processes

Link – Coordinating and integrating the work of others

These factors form the basis for a team-based method of problem-solving.

When faced with a difficult problem, the starting point for team discussion is Analyse. What information do we need? Why? Where will we get it? Who will get it? When do we need it? How will we get it? This ensures that all currently available data is gathered for consideration.

The Innovate sector ensures that the team will spend time discussing ideas around the problems being faced. Most successful innovating sessions follow a procedure designed to ensure an open and diverging discussion. Such sessions should be free from any commitment to make a decision. That comes later.

Promote has two aspects to it. Each team member needs to learn how to present ideas and solutions in a way that will influence other team members. Equally important is a focus on the key stakeholders outside the team. Who outside the team needs to be persuaded if the idea is to proceed? Many ideas are impracticable and can never be implemented, due to organizational and cultural constraints.

Develop sessions focus on which ideas are likely to work and how can they be tested for verification.

Organize is action-oriented and ensures that the team will implement agreed solutions and assign accountabilities and responsibilities.

Produce addresses the output aspects of any decision. What are we producing? To what quality levels? To what standards? When? Producing defines the bottom line on which many teams are evaluated. How many ideas fail because the detailed aspects were not thought through?

Inspect is always a critical aspect of this process..

Maintain the agreed decisions and the team processes will ensure that the team stays together and learns together. Maintenance involves regularly reviewing mistakes in a non-recriminatory way and establishing guidelines to prevent them from reoccurring.

Link is in the middle of the model because it is a shared responsibility of every team member. Each person working on a team task must undertake to link with other team members so that everyone is fully informed.

This model can be the basis for a Team Learning processes established in your organization. It provides a structure and a language to ensure that the essential activities for excellence in teamwork are continually implemented.

Team Roles

Every person approaches their work differently and there are a number of different team roles that have been documented in relation to these different tasks that teams do.

Reporter-Advisers enjoy gathering information and putting it together in a way that makes it easily understood.

Creator-Innovators enjoy thinking up new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Explorer-Promoters like to take ideas and promote them to others, both inside and outside the organization.

Assessor-Developers usually display a strong analytical approach and are at their best where several different possibilities need to be analyzed and developed.

Thruster-Organizers are people who enjoy making things happen.

Concluder-Producers are practical people who can be counted on to carry things through to the end.

Controller-Inspectors are quiet, reflective people who enjoy the detailed side of work, such as dealing with facts and figures.

Upholder-Maintainers are people with strong personal values and principles, which are of prime importance in their decision-making.

The Linker role is a shared role that is held in conjunction with the other roles. It comprises key skills focusing on the linking of people, linking of tasks and leadership linking.

Once team members understand their individual work preferences, they have a language for discussing potential problems that might occur. The final step is to understand how to mentor the team.

Team mentorship

As a leader it is important to user a practical mentorship model such as the Star Roles Model which is used by organisations to describe the positions managers and mentors adopt when guiding direct-reports and mentees. Similarly, the Star Roles Model follows the Mintzberg 10 management positions – drawing in the most relevant elements when considering the mentoring relationship in detail. It is also directly supportive of situational leadership theory as promoted by Blanchard.

‘Inner’ Roles

The inner roles focus on ‘closed’ management and mentoring, where the mentor is using personal knowledge, insight and input to steer the individual.

The Roles

  • Greater Expert – bringing in own knowledge and sharing this with the person being guided/mentored – having the comfort and knowledge to advise technically, procedurally and personally – based on experience and sourced knowledge
  • Critical Partner – brings personal challenge and structured dialogue to the interaction relies on Socratic questioning to help the other person realise the truth of the situation and challenge their thinking with the aim of expanding the dialogue and their sphere of consideration.
  • Sympathetic Ear – provides a non-judgmental sounding board for the mentee to discuss issues and challenges – establishes a secure conversational environment and falls into the ‘friend/confidant role

‘Outer’ Roles

The Roles

  • In comparison, the outer roles are driven more by a sense of ‘open’ input.
  • Background Champion – works within the organisation to secure wider support, input or change to assist the mentee in achieving their aims – lends their name and weight to the issue and is happy to be quoted as support for the work
  • Role Model – bases conversations around challenge on their own direct experience and personal approach to problems – gives mentees steer through “I would…” conversations that educate through replication of their own success rather than self-exploration and learning
  • Cultural Navigator – imparts detailed, personal knowledge of the cultural flows and key figures within the organisation – uses personal experience and opinion of individuals, teams and departments to shape a route through the challenge for the individual

These ideas have formed an inside-out view of team leadership.

Applying these ideas practically

If everyone were the same we would get nothing done. This has practical implications for the way we recruit. An old management maxim is not to recruit in your own image or as someone put it – recruit your alter ego. A team needs to be composed to achieve all of the team functions and as it grows it may be better to look first at the elements that it is lacking – rather than getting “more of the same”.

David G Thompson in Blueprint to a Billion comments on the inside-out leadership pairs that focused the growth of companies such as Microsoft, eBay, Starbucks and Broadcom. In these high growth companies, a leadership pair focused on augmenting each other’s weaknesses and one focusing internally and another externally in relation to the growth of the company.


This article presents some practical tools for teams to focus on balancing the team roles, with an operational process that supports problem-solving. It also looks at how people can best contribute to different aspects of a team. Finally, it looks at how leaders can coach teams using inside-out focus areas.

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