10th April 2015
What we know about Accelerating Team Performance
In recent posts we talked about why a focus on teams is critical to driving organisational performance and 7 P’s of Team Performance. That leaves us to describe how you get teams to perform at their full potential.
First I’ll save you some time and let you know whether you should read further by asking one simple question: Do you think team performance is simply a process of ensuring you have all the right players and a motivated team leader who has the skill to coordinate respective individual performance and manage personal development aspirations? If so, there is probably no point you reading any further….but maybe you should anyway.
This article is for leaders who know they need to manage the dynamic of the team itself, not just the individuals on the team; it’s for those leaders who aspire to run a team to unified goals as opposed to functional or personal agendas and, most of all, this article is for those leaders who know the difference between coordination and cooperation.
If you are still reading, then you know there is a major step up between managing individuals and leading a team dynamic – you get that and you know it is important to invest in teams – then you’re a long way down the path to discovering how to accelerate team performance.
Getting things started
Accelerating Team Performance ideally starts with the most senior team in an organisation and only moves forward once this group are engaged and ready to lead. Yes, of course, improving team performance could start with any team but there is one thing we know for sure; people only do what their leaders do, so the higher the team you start working with the larger the shadow of change in performance and behaviour.
Here’s the process we follow when we work with teams that want to be the best they can be:
First we find out what is actually going on in a team in an honest, open process of discovery. It’s important to hear the perspectives and the stories of every member of the team so that an accurate picture of the team dynamic can be developed. The best way to do this is to talk with every member of the team in a one on one interview prior to the team engagement. Online surveys are time efficient and can capture some data, but can never capture the subtleties and nuances of what’s really going on. And they definitely don’t know how to ask follow up questions.
The insights collected form the basis for the team to diagnose where they have ended up on the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing continuum and which of the 7 P’s of Team Performance will be the most effective levers to accelerate the team’s performance. Like any form of feedback, the point where you hold a mirror up to yourself can be confronting, and we often see teams try to rationalise the feedback to make it more palatable. But it is precisely at this point where the leader and the team need to make themselves vulnerable and open to ideas for improvement and development.
The team must engage
When a team actively engages in building their own development agenda, they tend to get to consensus quickly around the most effective means to pursue and tend to be more likely to maintain momentum over the medium to long period.
Working within the modern, matrix organisation also requires teams to consider a whole new set of relationships with people who aren’t even in the room. Following a review of their feedback data one team we worked with took the time to consider what type of team they were. It was a ‘classic leadership team’ under a General Manager with heads of Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance, HR, and IT.
In talking about the kind of team they were, and wanted to be, they engaged in a robust discussion of whether they devote their energy to better coordinate how they each played their role or whether they had to learn to cooperate. This team spent time exploring the fact that coordination is an act or state of coordinating (or being coordinated) to ensure a proper order, sequence, combination or interaction of functions and/or parts.
When a team is being coordinated it is possible for people stand alone. Cooperation, on the other hand, is the act of working together for a common purpose or benefit. It is the process of working in unison rather than working independently, and it’s where we see the real leverage being gained by being a team.
Invest the time
Teams need to give themselves time to think and talk. One of the roadblocks to success is a team not acknowledging how much time is needed to get to the issues and to explore the means by which improvement can be achieved. In our experience it takes two days run consecutively for a team to have enough time to settle into a rhythm of working on the team, learning to talk together, setting some ground rules and creating the trusted connections needed to raise collective performance.
Like all things, teams needs maintenance, some regular reviews and more time off-site and away with each other, each event building on the preceding one as the team accelerates its capability – and along the way, we often see some individual follow up with people needing help in adjusting and aligning to new ways of being within the team.
Can you build a great team in a few hours in the board room at work? We haven’t seen it happen….
What happens in the room . . .
A key factor in teams being able to explore the ‘stories’ of its members and to create new stories, protocols and ways of winning is the ability to stick to the old adage of “what happens in the room stays in the room”. But it’s in these conversations in the room that great teams are forged; conversations that ultimately find their way into the team communicating (through words, actions and decisions) how it will be different with other teams and stakeholders.