Are you regularly disappointed with your team’s results?
You may be convinced that you have assembled the right brains and expertise, yet the outcomes often fail to meet your expectations.
The organizational objectives are not achieved, which is bad enough. But now you are starting to feel stressed out as you wonder how your team’s performance will reflect on your credibility as a leader.
So you roll up your sleeves, determined to fix the problem. You review your routines with the members of your team, you take deeper dives into their activities hoping to make a difference. And you start to feel overwhelmed. Why is it so complicated to just get the job done?
Your team’s results need to improve dramatically. There’s no if’s and but’s about it. Because you just can’t do it alone.
In today’s world, strategic objectives are not attainable by unique individuals. No matter the expertise and experience you hold, there’s no way you can reach top performance on your own. Our organizations are just too complex. Knowing everything about everything is just impossible.
So leaders group talented people in teams, hoping for the best. Yet, research demonstrates that just about 12% of teams around the world evaluate themselves as highly performing as a team.
So you are not alone in your struggles, but that’s hardly helpful.
What’s the problem? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
Well, first, let’s understand the source of the problem. As a matter of fact, it is quite simple.
What most people get wrong about teamwork
We assume that the intelligent people that we assemble in teams will naturally know how to join forces to attain collective goals.
We forget that human beings come with personal values, objectives, and personalities. Unless you, as a leader, create a memorable case for change, which will inspire all team members to think, reflect and act as a one team, the outcome will remain limited to the sum of individual outcomes.
But you are looking for top performance, aren’t you? And this can only happen if the team acts as one. If the team becomes more important than any of its members.
Your role as a leader is to foster and sustain that change. And it is much simpler than you might think. I can explain.
Follow this simple process, and you will be delighted with your team’s progress.
You can do it.
Get your team excited and engaged
Overcoming individual preferences and objectives for the greater common good takes efforts on everyone’s part, which can only be sustained if the motivation is high.
Therefore, your primary goal is to create a sense of necessity and urgency within your team. To ignite the passion essential to overcome the natural force of inertia that resides in every human being.
And this can only be accomplished if you bond with your team members, connecting with their emotions as opposed to solely addressing their rational mind.
Convince their rational minds, while inspiring their hearts.
Starting with why improving team performance is essential is particularly powerful. Root your story in the mission and vision of the team, and in the strategic objectives you are pursuing together.
Essentially, this means:
- Depicting the rational and emotional benefits of achieving your objectives together
- Explaining why (and why now) performing better together is essential, rather than keeping the status quo
Invite your team to contribute to the reflection, sharing their reactions and motivation to engage in a process to improve their collective performance.
Foster strong collaboration
Working on team performance requires a fair level of open and honest conversations, which can only happen if team members feel safe to express their opinions without fear of retaliation.
Consequently, consider the following exercise.
Invite the team to identify those rules of engagement which will foster trust, openness, and a sense of safety—all the time.
In order to do this, facilitate a discussion with your team:
- What rules of conduct are essential for everyone to be open, honest, and feel safe about expressing conflicting opinions?
- Who is responsible to acknowledge that a rule is not respected by one of the team members? Only the supervisor? Everyone?
- What will the consequence be if a rule is not met?
Ensure that these rules are precise and concrete. As an example, let’s say that one of the rules of conduct is to arrive on time. But what does it mean specifically? 5 minutes before the meeting starts? Arriving at the exact time? Arriving 3 minutes later?
As you can see, by avoiding generalities, you create clarity for everyone.
Engage your team to design its unique approach to teamwork
As a next step, invite your team members to voice key characteristics of high-performing teams they might have experienced in the past.
- What are, according to your experiences, the characteristics of a successful team? We can refer here to this team, but also to any other teams—in sports, other work teams, etc.
- What features do you think are essential for effective and productive team work?
Take note of the array of features that emerge as you go along. Then fuel additional thoughts by sharing proven models of high-performing teams, such as the one described in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni, 2002).
Discuss as a team what resonates best, and finalize the ideal target. Document, one way or the other, your team’s unique representation of high-performance.
Make it memorable.
Get Painfully Real about Your Current Team Performance
Now that you and your team have a clear picture of the target state, it is necessary to agree on the starting point. That means, assessing the team’s current performance.
There are two ways to do this.
At one end of the spectrum, the assessment can be made informally and qualitatively. At the other end, it can be done formally through a team performance diagnostic. This will typically include both quantitative and qualitative questions.
Here’s how an informal assessment works:
If you choose to make an informal and qualitative assessment, plan for a two-hour meeting with the team.
Using your target team performance designed earlier as a reference, facilitate a discussion to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of teamwork, as it stands right now.
You may want to involve a third party to facilitate such a session. This will allow you to participate in the discussions in the same way as the other members of the team.
The questions asked to stimulate reflection could be, for example:
- What concrete cases demonstrate the performance of our team work, good and bad?
- Considering one case at a time, what worked well? What didn’t work as well?
- What lessons do we learn?
Here’s how a formal assessment works:
Alternatively, you could rely on a formal team diagnostic, which will involve a third party, such as a certified coach.
Different coaches will have different methods, but personally (as a certified coach myself), I use the scientifically validated team diagnostic from Team Coaching International (TCI).
In this process, the team is invited to complete the online test individually and anonymously. The consolidated results is then revealed by the coach during a session with the team.
My personal advice: Plan to work with a coach if performance issues are high, or if you want to accelerate the development of the team. A coach will facilitate the discussions, accelerate awareness, help manage conflicts and will be in a privileged position to make visible what happens under the surface.
Once this phase is completed, the team has everything it needs to design an action plan.
Develop a Plan That Everyone Can Rally Around
Reserve at least two hours (or even better, half a day) to let the team develop its own performance improvement plan.
- Let the team members articulate the team’s objectives—why again is it essential to improve as a team?
- Then have them analyze the strengths and weaknesses that emerged from the team diagnostic. Discuss the efforts required to improve, and the potential impact on performance. Invite the team to identify up to three priorities, the most promising ones, to improve teamwork. These should become the strategies—the what—essential to attain the team’s objectives. Ask them to specify: What will success look like?
- Then, for each strategy, define the actions required—the how, the person responsible, and the target dates.
- And finally, ask team members to consider the action plan as a whole, and confirm their level of commitment. You could even ask them what will they do differently, starting tomorrow, even it is only a small thing?
You may also be interested to know that, based on TCI research:
- Teams that have adopted TCI’s team coaching program have achieved at least 20% improvement after 6 to 8 months;
- The two skills that have the greatest impact on improving performance are to have constructive interactions (that is, do not avoid confronting ideas, but do so constructively) and to increase the accountability of each member of the team towards the team.
Don’t Let Focus Shift Away from the Plan
The execution of the action plan normally lasts for several months, say six months, on average. Indeed, if certain actions can be realized quickly, there will surely be some that will require more time.
The key to success of the performance improvement program lies in the discipline and rigour with which the team will implement its action plan.
For deep changes to take place, the team must keep the focus on the actions to be taken, despite operational priorities. Team members must learn from their experiences. They must develop gradually new practices, which will result in new standards.
It is essential to review the progress of the team on a regular basis. And by regular, what I have in mind is at least every two weeks. Indeed, experience shows that systematic reviews keep the action plan in the foreground. In addition, it encourages the team to take responsibility for its progress.
Push your team to settle for nothing less but excellence
After six months of hard work, it’s time to evaluate progress.
Perform the same diagnostic you initially performed. What does the team performance look like today? How does it compare to the initial state? Compare the results, and celebrate the successes!
Who knows, the team may then choose to continue its evolution, and design a new action plan.
Get ready to celebrate your team’s success
Imagine that together with your people, you crafted this inspiring vision of high-performing teamwork. The collective motivation is deeply rooted in common values, the objectives are crystal clear, and so are constructive behaviours. And with persistence, you don’t let daily operations and minor conflicts derail your team’s transformation.
Team members finally get it. They understand the part they play in the team’s success and they feel accountable. They get what it means for this team to act as one.
Suddenly, it is less about individual accomplishments as it is about everyone being successful together.
At this stage, team members are willing to let go of a portion of their resources, or to invest time, or to share contacts, to help other team members be successful. To ignore a colleague that needs support is no longer an option.
Great perspective, isn’t it?
And it is really quite simple to get there. You just have to help your people find their own path to team performance.
So start by crystallizing why it is so important for the team to succeed, and why changes are required, and why now. Make sure that whatever the ideas you retain are, they are deeply rooted in values and emotions. It will increase your impact tremendously.
Then go ahead, schedule a first transformative meeting with your team, and move on.
Soon, you too will celebrate your team’s successes!
- Lencioni, Patrick (2002), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass — A Wiley Imprint
- Lencioni, Patrick (2005), Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators, Jossey-Bass — A Wiley Imprint
- Team Coaching International