How to Create a High Performing Team
This is one of the most frequently asked questions by business leaders and sports Coaches. We’ve all witnessed the demise and implosion of highly successful teams; when the shock and disappointment dissipate, in-depth analysis starts to explain some of the reasons for the failure. A high performing team will sometimes self-destruct due to complacency or belief that they are better than they really are, or they have been focused on a very specific end goal or project and can’t maintain top performance, as identified in research by Katzenbach and Smith.
Conversely, we have all witnessed unprecedented team success with the arrival of a new leader or sports Coach, as with Leicester City winning the Premiership in 2015 – 16 under Ranieri.
So how can you create a sustainable high performing team?
- Once the team is formed or a new leader or Coach arrives, every team member should be made clear of the vision, mission, strategy and objectives, then understand how their role and tasks align and contribute to these key areas and the stretch goals. Without alignment, no team or business will achieve outstanding success.
- At the creation of the team or start of a major project or new season, all key issues within the team should be identified and then constantly reviewed. Utilising talent assessment tools, including personality profiles, will highlight potential and how the team members are likely to interact. Obtaining anonymous feedback from a 360 Feedback Review and/or Team Needs Questionnaire will elicit honest responses regarding the existing key behaviours and demonstrate where improvements need to be made. Addressing this confronting feedback with the teams’ leader is one of the keys to success, with questions including whether different views are encouraged and opinions on the source of problems are expressed.
- The most common issues of dysfunctional teams are the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results, as publicised by Patrick Lencioni. Once the key issues have been identified, the leader should start to address them; the team should then devise their own team contract, which is aligned with the vision, mission and strategy and is owned by them and agreed by their leader. It should cover all the key behaviours, values, processes and procedures that the team agrees to adhere to, from not sending non-urgent work emails late at night, to how success will be celebrated.
- Once every team member has signed up to the team contract, they must ‘own it’ and live by its principles, demonstrating they are committed to a common purpose, approach and performance goals. No team will be successful unless each team member holds themselves mutually accountable for their own and the teams’ performance and results. This is where Sales teams often fail by concentrating on individual, not team targets, which may adversely affect the overall team performance by creating too much competition, silo-working, secrecy and interpersonal conflict.
- Next, every team member should be very clear on their own roles and responsibilities, the decision-making authority they have, the communication process, and standards expected. When boundaries are blurred, confusion and disengagement flourish and conflict arises.
- Often a team is only as good as their leader or Coach: if the leader leads by example, builds trust and respect through open and honest communication, the team members will give respect and trust in return. However, if a toxic leader is in situ and performance management and evaluation involves public criticism of issues and mistakes, then most trust and respect will be lost and the team performance will suffer. The old adage of the carrot or stick approach holds true here: if you beat an animal it becomes nervous, it will then make more mistakes under added pressure and then under-perform. In a team this kick starts the downward spiral of unhelpful behaviours, loss of self-esteem and confidence, resulting in stress and failure. Leaders who publicly humiliate team members destroy all trust, as well as stifling innovation and creativity, resulting in high levels of disengagement and attrition.
- The opposite affect is when a leader protects his/her team from adverse criticism and gives constructive feedback in a safe environment, displaying self-awareness, emotional intelligence and maturity, as well as acting with integrity, motivating and inspiring team members, rewarding and celebrating good performance, then individuals and the team will thrive.
- The old style of directive, authoritative leadership rarely works nowadays. Although some team members may still want and need to be led under certain circumstances, a high performing team needs to feel valued, empowered and inspired in order to be successful. In sport the self-Coaching model and principles of the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team have created sustained global success and are frequently emulated in business.
- Trust is also created within a team when its members feel able to be open about their mistakes, skill deficiencies and weaknesses, and when they are allowed to give their ideas without fear of being reprimanded. If team members are not allowed to air their views in open and honest debate, or are fearful of doing so, they will stop making decisions, cliques and silos will form, water cooler conversations will become toxic, and subsequently the team culture will deteriorate. Without ongoing support, encouragement and mentoring, the final outcome is failure to achieve and inertia sets in, individuals turn to survival mode and lose interest in the success of the team and look to move on.
- The best teams don’t need expensive ‘team building’ away days, a simple shared meal or fun activity can be more effective in reinforcing the values and sense of belonging. The best teams are often self-sufficient, they self-manage and self-Coach, safe in the knowledge that they can call on their grounded, visionary and inspirational leader for motivation, guidance and counsel whenever required.
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