X-teams are set apart from traditional teams by five hallmarks: external activity,
Figure 13.1: X-Teams Versus Traditional Teams: Five Components
The first hallmark of the X-team is
It doesn't matter how technically competent a team is if the most relevant competency is the ability to lobby for resources with top management. And even resources mean little without an ability to reach outsiders who have the knowledge and information to help team members apply the resources effectively. Thus at any given time, any X-team member may be conducting one or more of the three external activities.
Ambassadorial activity is aimed at managing upward—that is, marketing the project and the team to the company power structure, maintaining the team's reputation, lobbying for resources, and keeping track of
For example, the leader of what we call the Swallow team wanted to manufacture a new computer using a revolutionary design. The company's operating committee, however, wanted only a product upgrade. The team leader worked with a key decision maker on the operating committee to portray the benefits of the product to the organization—and eventually got permission for the design. He
Scouting activity helps a team gather information located throughout the company and the industry. It involves lateral and downward searches through the organization to understand who has knowledge and expertise. It also means investigating markets, new technologies, and competitor activities. Team members in our studies used many different modes of scouting, from the ambitious and expensive (hiring
Effective teams monitor how much information they need—for some, extensive scouting early on to get the lay of the land is all that's needed. For others, scouting continues throughout the life of the team. In particular, teams working with technologies created by outsiders can never relax their scouting activities.
Task-coordinator activity is much more focused than scouting. It's for managing the lateral connections across functions and the interdependencies with other units. Team members negotiate with other groups, trade their services and get feedback on how well their work meets expectations. Task-
In order to engage in such external activity, team members need to have extensive ties with outsiders. Ties that academic researchers call
are good for certain purposes—for example, when teams need to round up handy knowledge and expertise within the company. One team we studied gave a senior position to a new hire straight out of graduate school because of his ties to important experts at prestigious academic institutions. The ties were weak but extensive and
, however, facilitate higher levels of cooperation and the transfer of complex knowledge. Strong ties are most likely to be forged when relationships are critical to both sides and built over long periods of time.
In the case of Swallow, the team leader's prior relationship with the operating-committee member helped
But how to structure a large, complex team? How to combine the identity and separateness of a team with the dense ties and external interactions needed to accomplish today's work? Our research shows that X-teams
The core of the X-team is often, but not always, present at the start of the team. Core members carry the team's history and identity. While
The first core member of the Swallow team was the leader; then two senior
Having multiple people in the core helps keep the team going when one or two core members leave, and it allows a core member who gets involved with operational work to hand off core
The team's operational members do the ongoing work. Whether that's designing a computer, creating an academic course, or deciding where to drill for oil, the operational members get the job done. They often are tightly connected to one another and to the core (and may include some core members). In the Swallow
Outer-net members often join the team to handle some task that is separable from ongoing work. They may be
For example, when the Swallow team wanted to ensure its initial design made sense to others, it brought in outer-net people from other parts of R&D. For two weeks, the enlarged team met to discuss the design, its potential problems, ideas for changes, and solutions for problems that operational members had identified. Then those new members left. Meanwhile, designated members of the core group met weekly with different outer-net members—people from purchasing, diagnostics, and marketing—for information sharing, feedback, and smoothing the flow of work across groups. Some X-teams' outer
The three-tier structure is currently in use at a small, entrepreneurial startup we know—except that the
X-team membership is fluid.
People may move in and out of the team during its life or move across
An increasing focus on the external context does not mean that the internal team processes are unimportant. In fact, traditional coordination mechanisms such as clear roles and goals may be even more important when team members are communicating externally, membership is changing, and there are different versions of membership. The trick is to avoid getting so internally focused and tied to other team members that external outreach is ignored. X-teams find three different coordination mechanisms
First, through integrative meetings, team members share the external information each has obtained. That helps keep everyone informed and
Second, transparent decision making, which keeps people informed about the reasons behind choices, is good for nudging everyone in the same direction and for maintaining motivation. Even when team members are frustrated that a component they have worked on has been dropped, they appreciate knowing about the change and why it has been made.
Finally, measures such as clearly communicated but flexible deadlines allow members to pace
X-team components form a self-
 Ancona 1992.
 Granovetter 1973, Krackhardt 1992, Hansen 1999.
 Ancona and Caldwell 1998.