"If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” — Thomas Edison
We all want to be part of a successful high-performance team. However, it happens to all of us at one time or another that we are placed into a new group to complete a project, and something doesn’t click.
I continue to be amazed that a group of people who are ordinarily competent and diligent cannot seem to get anything done. Deadlines whiz past like the scenery outside a high-speed train. Projects sink toward failure.
Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Andrew Carnegie
Finding the high-performance team continues to be among the hottest topics in business, with organizations spending many millions of dollars and countless hours on training workshops and experiential programs each year. The goal, of course, is to unlock the promises of team dynamics: better decisions, increased productivity, more innovation and higher levels of engagement.
So few teams ever actually become a high-performance team. Instead of healthy innovation, there are fights for one’s ideas; instead of camaraderie, there is resentment. Most common of all is a professional passive-aggressiveness, where team members remain silent when together, but then dissent later in private. Despite the tired, oft-repeated process of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing, most teams seem to be stuck in Storming.
Why is that? What is it that turns teams into dysfunctional groups of people?
From a competent team to a sinking mess
Bernard Marr has identified nine key factors that can turn an otherwise competent team into a sinking mess:
Ego—When someone’s ego is more important than the team, the project, or the goal, things break down quickly. This behaviour can happen when one person is more interested in “looking good” for the boss than getting the work done, when someone is always placing blame, or when someone feels and acts like they are too good to do the necessary work.
Harmful competition—Lighthearted competition can be a good thing, especially for certain kinds of teams. In a sales team, for example, individual members can be motivated by gamifying their work with a leaderboard or bonuses for high performance. However, when the competition goes too far, it can destroy a sense of teamwork and create a “you versus me” atmosphere that isn’t good for anyone.
Poor communication—When the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, it causes all sorts of problems: duplicate work, forgotten work, missed deadlines, etc. Communication is key to a team that works.
Micromanagement—When employees must get approval or sign-off on everything they do, it slows down the workflow considerably. Team leaders need to be able to trust employees to make the right choices, and employees need to feel comfortable asking for help when they need it. The right balance here is critical.
Criticism without praise—I’ve known managers in my career whose entire management philosophy was to criticize everything and rarely if ever dole out praise. I think you can imagine how well that went over with their team. Constructive criticism (keyword: constructive) is vital to helping employees grow, but generous and well-timed praise is also crucial for maintaining enthusiasm and morale.
Unreasonable expectations—As a member of a team, nothing feels worse than the sinking feeling of knowing that you will never reach your targets, no matter how hard you work. Goals that are a stretch and require a lot of the team are good, but goals that are way out of reach are depressing. It will not make employees work harder; it will make them want to give up.
Half-hearted work—Having one or more member of the team who only puts in half an effort — showing up late, leaving early, checking email all day, etc. — has a decidedly negative impact on the whole team. It is essential that everyone is putting in a full, equal effort.
Stubbornness—When members of a team adopt a “my way or the highway” approach, no one benefits. When working in a group, everyone needs to be open to new ideas, new strategies, and experimentation — even, and perhaps especially, the leader. Just because you have always done it that way does not mean that is the best way to do it.
Leading with emotions—Instinct, emotions, and gut feelings all have their place, but bringing emotions too much into the team can have a harmful effect. A team member who always feels spurned when his idea is not chosen, who sees slights (real and imagined) in every interaction, or who takes home the stress and anxiety about a project may be bringing too many emotions into the workplace.
Liane Davey, an organizational psychologist, and consultant explain that there are five kinds of toxic groups:
The Crisis Junkie Team—stalled by unclear priorities and lack of role clarity, this team lurches along until a crisis forces it to unite around a common goal.
The Bobble Head Team—homogenized by shared values and perspectives, this team maintains harmony at the cost of little innovation.
The Spectator Team—fragmented by team members who have “checked out,” this team sinks into apathy.
The Bleeding Back Team—plagued by underground conflict and personal histories, this team keeps the peace in public but fights in private.
The Royal Rumble Team—scarred by attacks and emotional outbursts, this team swings back and forth without ever moving forward.
Patterns to look for when teams do not work
Patty McManus suggests that there are three patterns to look for when teams do not work.
The War Zone—This team environment is characterized by watching one’s back, the formation of factions, and maneuvering behind closed doors. Members are primarily competitive with one another, and the team leader may use that dynamic to maintain control. An agreement is hard to reach, and the leaders often fail to act in concert in the organization, sending contradictory messages to their staff that can strain people’s ability to work together across formal lines of authority.
The Love Fest—The focus here is on getting along. You might hear comments like: “If only our people could get along as well as we do.” One risk to these teams is that they can become insular; separated from the overall organization. They might tend to assume that all the critical perspectives are already in the room. They can be inclined to avoid the severe issues in the interest of maintaining good feelings.
The Unteam—These leaders function separately, but their primary connection is to their leader. Meetings are used for status updates and top-down communication. They build little to no shared perspective on the broader organization or industry, and their meetings are a waste of time. One might hear comments such as: “We run different functions, the overlaps are always hard, but people will work it out.” They may get along as individuals, but they have little connection to one another or a more critical purpose they all share.
How to build a high-performance team
Healthy leadership teams display divergent perspectives that they respect and value. They make evidence-based decisions. The group avoids getting stuck. Team members openly evaluate options based on data and members’ knowledge and ultimately find places of agreement. The team embraces conflicting opinions as dilemmas to grapple with rather than fights to win.
Fixing dysfunctional teams is not easy. We offer assessments of the performance traits of the team members to uncover the barriers that are holding the team back. Our workshop builds the skills the team needs to self-manage their process of ongoing improvement. Also, we offer a program for the senior leadership team and a general program for all other teams.
We have learned that the high-performance team does not emerge unless they have the right mix of players. For example, when one person on a team always must be right, no one benefits. Stubbornness — the “my way or the highway” approach — gets you nowhere. A team can survive with one member who does not fit. However, they are doomed to fail if they have two members that do not fit.
Teams also collectively often have a gap in the talent stack required to achieve the outcome.
Some people have better ideas than others; some are smarter or more experienced or more creative. But, everyone should be heard and respected.” — Jack Welch
I believe a better approach is to form the high-performance team correctly in the first place. The critical elements are: clarity regarding the team’s outcome; diversity of thought; the right collective talent stack to achieve the result; and participants have the performance competencies to be a great team player.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” Ken Blanchard
It is essential that you use the collective intelligence of the assembled group. The problem has not been solved, that why the team was formed. Even if individually you have the problems solved, the team should be able to enhance the solution, or if it is the only feasible solution, the team’s endorsement will help you sell the solution.
We are incredibly passionate about Performance DNA and the impact this scientific insight can have on you and your business. Using our Best-Fit Staffing process, we can predict, with 85% reliability, if a candidate is likely to be a high performer in a role or on a team. We are using an evidence-based process to select members to build top performing teams. In our article, How to Achieve Remarkable Business Results — Thought Diversity, we set out the importance of this element.
If you have a special purpose team that fails to deliver, you can restart. However, even more, critical is the senior leadership team functioning as a high-performance team. Our talent analytics helps the CEO or founder understand their performance traits – first. We identify the gaps if any in your leadership team. The CEO makes strategic selections in selecting the right partners and critical personnel to fill the gaps that may exist on their leadership team.
Our article Why hiring the ‘best’ people produces the least creative results provides insights into the evidence. A high-performance team is all about the right fit of members and ensuring the full talent stack that is needed is available amoung the team.
Still curious about a high-performance team?
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