- - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s a good thing for Donald Trump that he got a boost from the recent primary in his home state of New York, because otherwise, he had a rough few weeks. He damaged his credibility as a candidate by making a string of confusing and ill-advised statements about punishing women who have an abortion and expressing scant concern about nuclear proliferation. His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has been dogged by charges that he assaulted a Breitbart reporter. Even worse was the shellacking Mr. Trump took in the Wisconsin primary, losing to Ted Cruz by a shocking double-digit margin. Reports say that with the “Make America Great Again” campaign in evident disarray, Mr. Trump’s team of advisers is working on a “reboot.” Is there a bright spot in this story?

We think there is: The reboot.

After years of studying collaboration at the Wharton School of Business, we concluded that the best performing teams do it all the time. As situations change, they change. In other words, they reboot. We have no special insight into whether Mr. Trump will or should secure the Republican nomination, but as teamwork experts, we feel the struggling candidate deserves credit on this key point.

Let’s look a little more closely at what the man who wrote the book on deal-making can teach us about the art of teamwork — and especially the reboot.

Mr. Trump launched his campaign with the clear goal of broadcasting his message directly to voters. He all but ignored the traditional retail activities such as meet-and-greets at churches and state fairs, rubber chicken dinners, and gatherings with local politicians. Delivering taunts, insults and over-the-top promises at debates and large rallies generated what many observers have claimed is over a billion dollars of free public relations. His new convention manager, Paul Manafort, said the campaign model was “predicated on a historic approach to communicating with the public.” But then, as the gaffes mounted, this shoot-from-the-hip approach stopped delivering easy victories by late March. What to do? That’s right: time to reboot, and redirect energies.

Which Mr. Trump did — and fast. Because it now seems uncertain that he will win an absolute majority of delegates by the time the Republican convention begins, he brought in Mr. Manafort, who has experience with fighting it out on the floor. Mr. Manafort has his own team of like-minded aides who will also join the campaign. Mr. Lewandowski has hired specialists who worked with Ron Paul and know how to win over delegates, one tough-talk conversation at a time.

Desperation moves? Recent media coverage might lead you to that conclusion. We see a different perspective. The Trump campaign is like a team of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who raised money, launched a venture, recognized quickly that their business model was failing, and — to use a popular high-tech term — pivoted. Successful teams at Facebook, Slack, Pinterest and many other companies had to pivot several times before they became winners. This is not easy to do for a start-up or campaign team, and it often produces conflicts. Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump’s recent meetings with his staff have been reported as highly contentious.

So how to have a successful reboot? When we advise executives about managing their teams, we emphasize a few guidelines illustrated vividly by Mr. Trump’s latest public moves. Always work toward a goal but avoid becoming too attached to it, because situations change and you might have to adjust. Define and redefine roles on your team as your work evolves, and seek to put the right people in those roles. Have frank discussions — which will often be contentious — about what they need to do. Be clear about how you want the members of your core team and related teams to work together. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal puts it, leaders need a “team of teams” to run an organization. Above all, remember that it is really hard work to align and realign a group of people collaborating on achieving a common purpose.

Because managing a successful pivot is such hard work, most teams fail to deliver hoped-for results, and Mr. Trump’s team may end up disappointing its passionate supporters at the July convention. Yet at the moment, we think the campaign is increasing its chances of victory by rebooting. You might even consider doing it on your own team, if recent performance has been disappointing. Of course, in politics as in business, despite the promises of overconfident leaders, there are no simple solutions and no guarantees. But by following a few guidelines, you can give your team the best shot at achieving what Mr. Trump himself might call “yuge” success.

Mario Moussa and Derek Newberry are the authors of “Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance” (Wiley, 2016). Mr. Moussa teaches in the executive programs at Wharton School of Executive Education and Mr. Newberry is a lecturer at the Wharton School of Business.


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