Creating teams that can’t fail

After twenty consecutive quarters of revenue decline, IBM’s marketing lead, Michelle Peluso, recently decided that the solution lies in relocating her remote-working team to one of six regional centers. Abandoning IBM’s long-held support for telecommuting, IBM marketers must now move so they can stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ or leave. This is a policy which didn’t work out well for Yahoo! (or should we say Oath), and will likely fail for IBM marketing.


Instead of uprooting the entire team, here’s what IBM could do instead. Having spent the time laying out a clear mission, they should make sure each member of the team has goals which ladder up to the key milestones and initiatives on the path to that mission. Then everyone would know how their efforts further the department’s purpose.

Instead of colocating to ensure supervision, they should institute regular monthly check-ins between managers and their line reports. In those sessions both manager and employee could review performance against the individual’s goals and remove any roadblocks. They could also hold themselves accountable for living up to the cultural values which the marketing team and IBM as a whole holds high. This would give the data about individual performance, as well as making the team aligned. Even after a few months, it would be clear which team members were delivering, and which were holding it back. They might find that this transparency improves the overall performance of the team.

When everyone is focused on the mission, initiatives and priorities, and can see how their work contributes, the incentive is for everyone to win. People get timely recognition and swift feedback. Issues are identified quickly and solved. Management decisions about individuals are based on data - not arbitrary or uniform. Managers know their teams are performing. And nobody has to move, or find a new place to live, or worry about how their daughter is getting on at her new school, or build a new social circle. They just have to work together, or should I say ‘shoulder to shoulder’, reinvigorating the IBM brand.