Leading Teams to High Performance

Teams Don’t Just Happen

“You achieve the task through the team, so take care of the team so that they can take care of the task”

Unfortunately teams don’t just happen and calling a group of individuals a team does not make them one

– and so many teams are a team in name only. Result, the rich resources of a team are often diluted into one task focused Leader and disengaged underutilised Team Members watching on the side line.

It takes conscious effort and intervention to convert a collection of individuals into a team capable of high performance. If we look at a team sport, we would be surprised if a manager and trainer devoted all their attention to the individual player’s fitness and technique. We would also expect them to concentrate on the skills, confidence, motivation and cohesion of the team as a whole.

Even the animal world has got the message. African wild dogs conduct a “pep rally” prior to every hunt, which involves jumping and cavorting together, licking muzzles and generally raising excitement. This is their way of energizing and motivating the pack for the hunt ahead – taking care of the team to get the task done.

Yet when it comes to Business teams, the requirement is often to” just get on with it” – to demanding deadlines. This frequently backfires, with Teams feeling compelled to immediately dive into the detail of the task, before they have clarified their goals, and with no attention paid to whether the team is capable and committed enough to work together.

Can we really be task effective without being team effective first?

In any organisation, survival requires cooperation; progress demands commitment and success demands teamwork. The interesting thing here is that teamwork cannot be demanded; it can only be encouraged and enabled. Here lies the challenge of leadership. How to do you face a demanding world with what ostensibly are volunteers?

True teams are forged in the fires of a challenge coupled with open & honest debate. There is nothing “nice” about the birth of a team; it takes courage, commitment and a measure of sacrifice. The path has been travelled before however and some key signposts left by previous travellers for team leaders are:

• Co-create the team purpose. Purpose lies at the core of any team and its creation must involve the team. No involvement, no commitment.

• Be conscious of your actions, in leadership what you know matters less than who you are seen to be. You are on a permanent stage and whilst people don’t always believe what they hear they always believe what they see.

• Make and keep small commitments. Commitments build hope, fulfilling commitments builds trust. Trust builds teams.

• Keep your team small in number high in energy. Five to seven people are good. Eight and over risks creating an audience.

• Turn your team meetings inside out. How often does the real connection in meetings take place during the breaks? Plan your meetings for participation and avoid monologues.

• Treat your relationships like bank accounts. Use time as the currency; make big investments when you can. Be there for your team.

Getting To High Performance

“Coming together is a beginning: keeping together is progress: working together is success” – Henry Ford

A couple more pointers:

• People see little point in investing their time and energy into teams if they know that the company doesn’t recognise, reward or value teamwork. So first and foremost, it is critical that that the environment in which teams are expected to perform is conducive to teamwork, not just a haven for individual heroes.

• People need a compelling reason to work as a team – otherwise, forget the task, just getting them to turn up for meetings will be challenge enough. So one of the first questions we ask of the teams is not what are your goals but exactly why do you need to work as a team? It’s having this compelling reason that helps shift team members from the often half-hearted, bystander level of participation to enthusiastic commitment.

• If there is no compelling reason to operate as a team – our advice is don’t form one. Sometimes a looser group or individual working is more appropriate.

• Provide very clear roles for the team leader and team members. Even the stakeholders, the people affected by the team’s decisions and outputs, need to have defined rights and responsibilities – helping to shift them from passive recipients or resistors to positive engagement. These role statements provide focus and structure for the individuals trying to fulfil their role, and also mean that employees can move easily between teams, becoming effective contributors from Day One.

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