Posted by: A.R. Cherian | October 15, 2009

Effective new product teams

I just read an academic paperĀ  called “Strategies of effective new product team leaders” by Avan R. Jassawalla and Hemant C. Sashittal (California Management Review, Winter 2000).

The authors undertook a comprehensive review of new product development processes in 10 high tech firms and studied the characteristics of the successful team leaders.

The authors asked the question that even though the qualities of effective team leaders have been well documented, why do some team leaders exhibit these positive behaviors, but not all? They state that simply knowing what leaders ought to do does not produce effective team leadership. There has to be a transformation in the leader’s thinking, learning, and doing and they must affect this same kind of transformation in their teams.

The successful team leaders do not have a “knowing-doing” gap (as Sutton and Pfeffer call it in their book of the same name). In other words, they do not let talk substitute for action.

The paper lists many great behaviors the team leaders exhibited and I cannot go into all of them here. But some of the ones that stood out to me were:

  • Effective new product development team leaders saw the big picture and let their team members know how their actions and decisions affected each other and other departments.
  • Effective team leaders created “a social environment that was less a battleground for turf protection behaviors and more of a sanctuary where people with different orientations and talents could share hidden agendas, ask for help, take risks, and develop collaborative relationships with others.”
  • They also focused on increasing participant’s personal and emotional committment to the team.
  • Effective new product team leaders are the main force behind product innovation. They must manage interpersonal dynamics among team members.

It was an interesting reading. I have never worked in new product development before but a lot of what they are saying seems applicable to successfully leading teams in any multi-departmental organization. Something beneficial to know that comes from real-world observations.


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