AOL Technologies, America Online
Dulles, Virginia

"What's the secret to a great team? Think small. Ideally, your team should have seven to nine people. If you have more than 15 or 20, you're dead: The connections between team members are too hard to make.

"Two and a half years ago, AOL was feeling hamstrung at the technologies level. There was a bottleneck at the top. We decided to make that division team-based, and created core teams that were empowered to make decisions about products. It was the best thing that we could have done. The core teams spun off satellite teams that focused on specific projects, with specific goals.

"The management challenge is to understand that the people who report to you may get most of their direction from their team leaders. And people can be on more than one team, of course. It's the manager's job to think about whether this person is being stretched too thin, or that person needs special training.

"Size is the key. Have the smallest number of people possible on each team. Another rule: no delegates. You don't want people who have to take the team's ideas back to someone else to get authorization. You want the decision makers."

Ray Oglethorpe leads AOL Technologies, which includes the network that supports AOL's member services worldwide, as well as host- and client-software development. He is responsible for maintaining and developing AOL's core technologies and operational resources and for the company's integrated-systems architecture.

Senior Vice President
The Boston Consulting Group
Atlanta and Miami

"Most teams are so eager to start thinking about work plans and output that they don't spend nearly as much time as they should setting up.

“Are the team members all on the same page about the project’s goals? Do they all understand how their work is going to be measured? What are they going to do if one team member doesn’t do his or her homework?

“Too often, what happens is that teams get right down to work, and then some sort of conflict arises. It gets ugly and personal very fast, because everyone has been blindsided and no one knows what to do. Here’s an example: You start working as a team. One person is behaving like a star — he wants special treatment. Well, did you all talk about that possibility before you launched into things?

“My advice for any new team: Don’t short change your startup. Take the time to understand what you’re going to do and how you’re going to deal with the possible bumps along the way. Trying to undo a conflict between two team members when no one is prepared to handle such a situation is at least three times harder than taking the time to set up some ground rules at the beginning of the process.”

Jeanie Duck’s work at The Boston Consulting Group mainly focuses on large-scale change. Her book, The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change, is forthcoming this spring from Random House.