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Eight Characteristics of Blockbuster Teams


The secret sauce for creating blockbuster brands has always been - and always will be - consistently exceptional team execution. Andy Mehrotra offers the recipe.

Andy Mehrotra

It takes 10,000 drug candidates, 10 years of development, and $2.6 Billion to bring a single FDA approved medicine to market. Indeed, it’s a tough journey to the finishing line for any drug that becomes a brand. So when you find your brand among the

two-thirds which do not meet revenue expectations

, it can be beyond disappointing for you, and for your team.  

Ever wonder what does it take to create a blockbuster brand?

You might think it is the scientific breakthrough in the laboratory, encouraging clinical data, or a great commercial strategy. While these are all important ingredients, they alone do not determine the fortunes of your brand. Similarly being the first-to-market - a market shaper or a category creator, also has little impact on how strong your brand ultimately becomes, despite the perceived head start.   The secret sauce for creating blockbuster brands, which brings these ingredients together, has always been and always will be - consistently exceptional team execution.   I learned this first hand in my last 25 years of journeying the pharmaceutical industry. Through roles in product development, sales, marketing, and general management - I got the opportunity to observe high-performing teams and study the drivers of outstanding performance.   The experience of facilitating HUMIRA® launch teams to create the most powerful brand in the biopharmaceutical industry, made me realize that blockbusters are not born in laboratories - instead, they are the deliberate consequence of concerted effort, by a diverse group of inspired people, working in unison for a prolonged period of time.   These groups of inspired people - Blockbuster Teams - are found at all stages of a drug’s journey, from the bench to bedside, working on a range of projects. Whether cross-functional or cross-organizational, these teams are masters at communicating, coordinating and collaborating internally and with a host of partners and service providers.   It is not the work, but their approach to work, which enables ordinary teams to perform extraordinary feats. Regardless of where they are found, all Blockbuster Teams exhibit certain characteristics which set them apart from their peers.  

8 Characteristics of Blockbuster Teams

  • Executive Participation

  • Aligned Purpose

  • Knowledge Transfer

  • Responsive Planning

  • Information Exchange

  • Objective Collaboration

  • Talent Positioning

  • Team Engagement

Any one of these characteristics is not enough to guarantee an off-the-chart success - Blockbusters Teams exhibit all eight.  

1. Executive Participation

No army ever won a battle without a strong general on the

front lines

. And brands don’t become blockbusters, without the intense, personal involvement of senior management.   Blockbuster Teams are lead by hands-on executives who show no tolerance for ivory tower leadership. These leaders take an intimate, active, often daily role to ensure the top priority problems of the day are resolved well, and early.   Executives who act as true custodians of their brand vision, and stay proactively aware of all actions and decisions which influence their vision - inspire, energize and empower entire teams, which in turn raises the overall effectiveness of their strategic plan’s execution.  

2. Aligned Purpose

Raising the flag on Iwo Jima, or turning your brand into a blockbuster - either takes clear, stable vision for everyone on the team, consistent at all levels, to achieve the common objective.   Everyone in a Blockbuster Team clearly understands what is expected of them everysingle day, and how their work influences the work of other members on their team. Only with an aligned purpose can teams expect to act in unison.     Just like the flag atop the hill, when team members can visualize the effect of their daily contributions towards the attainment of their brand’s strategic objective, it motivates them and those around them to keep pushing until their common goals are achieved.  

3. Knowledge Transfer

Every brand’s battle for market share is unique, for no two projects are identical. However, each battle scar - whether a challenge or a success has a story to tell and lessons to offer - as long as your team is willing to learn and adapt.   Blockbusters Teams are constantly learning from the execution of prior teams, and the performance of prior brands to improve future outcomes. These teams are content making new mistakes, as long as they are not repeating old ones.   Teams who are conscious about the importance of knowledge transfer, deliberately synthesize tacit knowledge into insights and identify best practices - to inform their own teams, and advise future teams to come. Teams that truly believe in learning from history, end up creating it.  

4. Responsive Planning

Planning to create a blockbuster brand is not unlike preparing to create a Normandy beachhead on D-Day. Several critical success factors across functions must be closely coordinated, to ensure they fall in place at the right time.   Blockbuster Teams build proactive plans to execute with high precision in diverse internal and external circumstances - without compromising the perspectives and requirements of all key stakeholders.   Teams which make the effort to develop the ability to adapt and course-correct quickly, are less prone to the effects of potential roadblocks. By utilizing a responsive planning approach, teams add flexibility and velocity to their strategic and tactical plans, which dramatically boosts their probability of success.  

5. Information Exchange

The success of any plan is driven by the quality of actions taken, and decisions made, during the course of the plan’s execution. In turn, the quality of actions and decisions depends on the timely availability of meaningful information.         With Blockbuster Teams, information travels fast to all the relevant parts of the team with minimum friction and is rarely lost in translation among different functional workstreams, partners, and collaborators. Teams which cut through the clutter of emails, slides, and meetings to ensure there are no delays in information exchange, improve overall team preparedness to turn on a dime during course-corrections.    Team members primed with timely, relevant information, do not need to be frequently briefed and brought up to speed - they are the speed.  

6. Objective Collaboration

Even when every team member is highly qualified, perfectly matched, and intrinsically motivated - all armies and teams are only as strong as their ability to recognize their weaknesses and collaborate to overcome them together.   Blockbuster Teams are focused on getting what matters done. Individuals are acutely aware of the wider implications of their work, and of their teammates, on the overall achievement of the common objective. So when needed, help is readily given and received.   Teams which appreciate mutual interdependencies tend to operate in an environment of transparency and trust, which drives collaboration more easily and frequently. If one starts to lag behind due to any number of reasons, the others closest to the task step in to help, so that the speed and quality of plan execution remain unaffected.  

7. Talent Positioning

What’s even more important than getting the

right people on the bus

? It’s getting the right people in the right seats! Each individual is unique - a product of experience, skills and expertise. Positioning team talents according to goals and deliverables, reduces risk and improves execution quality.   Blockbuster Teams are great at adapting fast to changing realities. By understanding the expertise needed for each aspect of the plan, and by appreciating the talents of individual team members - they position their best people on every execution challenge. So when things change, and problems arise, they are resolved quickly.   Not all tasks are created equal for all people. Unlike machines, each human performs differently. Teams which get this, go the extra mile of matching tasks with their people’s talents to significantly improve the quality and timeliness of decisions made, which ultimately ensures their plan’s success.  

8. Team Engagement

“What's in it for me?” This simple, natural question is the single most potent driver of all human behavior. To stay engaged - even the most altruistic team members need to have a clear understanding of how they are making a difference to their organization, team, and to themselves.   Blockbuster Teams are pragmatic in their approach to improve productivity. First, they ensure that each team member appreciates how their deliverables are positioned to build on their talents, and affect the overall team objective. And second, they influence ongoing performance by closely tying execution to feedback and recognition, in near real time.   Teams which aspire for better results next week or month - do not wait for annual appraisals. They share actionable feedback in the moment, and tangibly recognize performance while it still matters to their plan and to their team members. Transparent and timely feedback inspires people and energizes them to strive for continuous improvement.  

Take away:

Drugs will come and go, and market conditions will continue to evolve, but organizations which invest the time and effort to create blockbuster teams - will create great brands from good drugs, and phenomenal brands from awesome drugs.  

Andy Mehrotra

CEO, EightSpokes

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