Disruptions are everywhere today and collaboration is the critical success factor for innovations to emerge at speed so that businesses can self-disrupt on their own terms. If not, they would get disrupted from outside and then, playing catch-up can soon become a hard grind. More and more companies are attempting to team effectively, and they must do so cross-functionally with high performance teams. Most teaming efforts fall short of their performance potential for many reasons. Mainly because critical choices necessary are not made or required disciplines are not applied. Team performance requires disciplined choices and disciplined execution.
Too many teams do not change their teaming approach according to the situation at hand; they believe that their well tried approach fits all situations. There are too many reasons for this failure: Enterprise cultures play a critical role here; often how we team around here is basically the result of how we do things around here. Performance cultures that emphasize individual accountabilities, generally resist any real team efforts that are based on mutual accountability and requires shifting leadership roles; In contrast, highly collaborative cultures, often miss performance opportunities, because they try to introduce real team approaches where a strong single leader approach is more appropriate. Personal preferences reflect misleading mindsets; leaders tend to gravitate towards what they are more comfortable with, as they don’t have the experience or familiarity with other teaming approaches.
Why to team for performance?
Teams bring together complimentary skills and experiences that, by definition, exceed those of any individual on the team. In jointly developing clear goals and approaches, teams establish communications that support real-time problem solving and initiative.
Teams provide a unique social dimension that enhances the economic and administrative aspects of work. Real teams do not develop until the people in them work hard to overcome barriers that stand in the way of collective performance. Teams have more fun. This is not a trivial point because the kind of fun they have is integral to their performance. Groups become teams through disciplined action. They shape a common purpose, agree on performance goals, define a common working approach, develop high levels of complimentary skills, and hold themselves mutually accountable for results. And as with any effective discipline, they never stop doing any of these things.
Significant performance challenges energize teams regardless of where they are in an organization. Organizational leaders can foster team performance best by building a strong performance ethic rather than by establishing a team-promoting environment alone. Biases toward individualism exist but need not get in the way of team performance. Discipline – both within the team and across the organization- creates the conditions for team performance. Unbridled enthusiasm is the raw motivating power of teams.
How to team for performance?
To do it right, teaming for performance must distinguish between what it is not and what it is. Teaming for performance is not about togetherness, bonding or jest getting along. All these would seldom result in any tangible team performance. What would really make a difference in team performance is having a compelling purpose, clear leadership roles that is able to shift, a working approach that is clear to every team member, meeting structure that reminds participants how to behave, clarity about prioritization and decision making. Everybody needs to focus on getting the real work done, rather than spending time with communication and attempting to team. Common approaches to arrive at goals must be agreed on with right tools to support. Institutionalize with process infrastructure; process is important to ensure critical choices are made and critical disciplines are followed.
Create the frameworks/languages to encourage the way to talk about it and emphasize the teaming disciplines; use stories that link the organizations specific culture and aspirations. Take advantage of peer-to-peer networks; peer-to-peer sharing of approaches that work is most effective. Develop advocates who have common interests in teaming. Help them exchange their stories and experiences and learn from each other. Build the capabilities to deploy across teams; requires not only engaged senior sponsors but tailored tools and process support; tailored methodology and corresponding support content scalable to use across organization. While trust is valuable, the more critical issue for a high-performance team is the “mutual respect”; Members of the team need have or be able to develop a mutual respect for each others separate skills and perspectives.
And as you work together, trust will increase and probably mutual respect will increase. But start with mutual respect. In the best teams the members coach one another. Coaching can be useful in individual situations, more so in dysfunctional teams. But when it comes to teaming behaviors, the best teams coach one another, without the benefit of an official coach. Coaching in this way can be quite authentic and effective.
Know when to team and how
To be effective, know the different working molds and their characteristics. Discussion groups are not the same as single-leader units; single-leader units are not same are real teams. Understand which working mold fits which situation. Discussion groups may have distributed leadership with information sharing, e.g., weakly operating reports or marketing reviews. Single-leader units have individual work products, top-down team structure with clear stable roles, they are the most common group, and they rely heavily on a hierarchical manager who monitors individual assignments and accountability among less knowledgeable members. They are used best in business issues where speed and efficiency is important, e.g., making a quick pricing response to a price-cut ultimatum. These are performance units. And finally, the real teams have multiple / shifting leadership based on experience and skills. They produce collective work products and the work is done in a single room together. Learning among the members is a priority. They are driven by mutual accountability and so it works best on complex issues requiring collective insights, e.g., exploring all possible impacts with a new discounting strategy that would cut prices by 20% across the board. So shift the approach to fit the task at hand.
Leaders frequently fall into the trap of using the same teaming approach for all purposes. Too many teams do not change their teaming approach according to the situation at hand; they believe that their well tried approach fits all situations. There are too many reasons for this failure:
Enterprise cultures play a critical role here; often how we team around here is basically the result of how we do things around here.
Performance cultures that emphasize individual accountabilities, generally resist any real team efforts that are based on mutual accountability and requires shifting leadership roles;
In contrast, highly collaborative cultures often miss performance opportunities, because they try to introduce real team approaches where a strong single leader approach is more appropriate.
Personal preferences reflect misleading mindsets; leaders tend to gravitate towards what they are more comfortable with, as they don’t have the experience or familiarity with other teaming approaches
Accountability within a real team
Accountability construct is an individual accountability construct (which means we are accountable to the leader). In any real team challenge, we have got to add to that the mutual accountability construct – which means we hold each other accountable. Holding each other accountable requires discussion with the team at the outset. This discussion must include conversations about how will they hold themselves accountable to the goals? The group needs come to an understanding how they should hold each other accountable. When the goal has a tangible output, it is easier to measure. Often times, in complex real team situations, they will need to make the same kinds of judgment calls as a group, having determined how they want to hold themselves accountable. The indicators for measure are decided at team formation by the group in a “problem solve.”
Dealing with a virtual team when forming a real team
Virtual teams are increasingly relevant issue as we move more into globalization. What virtual teams benefit from is getting together face-to-face early on. There is real value in time together early on. Then you can break into other modes of communication. Encourage visits through the course of the project, when they can be face-to-face as well. Two things to guard against when forming virtual teams: Firstly, avoid the tendency to overload the team; the team works best when it is a small group, where each member is bringing something unique to the group and mutual respect grows by doing real work together. A group of 12-14 is doable, but a group of 20-30 will be difficult. It is very tempting to include more people while virtual teaming – it is called swarming of teams. Swarming has benefits, but it is not same as real teams. Secondly, make sure that the work to be completed is done collectively. The temptation is high on parceling out the work into chunks and they get done individually. So, take advantage of forming sub-groups or networks. Lot of electronic tools help do just that. Don’t weaken on the team basics.
Start to make team performance happen
Start with any group that you are part of and initiate open-ended discussions about the performance and purpose that can turn you into a team. Re-examine the goals of the group – are they clear, specific, measurable, and performance-focused? Ask yourselves if the goals require specific team work-products that will produce results. Give some attention to the skills and attitudes in the group, rather than styles and personalities. Set small wins along the way and celebrate them when reached. Go the extra length to celebrate the victories of the teams in your organization. When you are fortunate enough to spawn a high-performance team, get out of its way, and make sure the rest of the organization is aware of its unique accomplishments and attributes.
Teams are a microcosm of the high-performance organization itself. The critical role of senior managers, therefore, is to determine where teams matter, and then to pay careful attention to establishing the opportunities for such teams to perform. The best thing about teams is that they can make a difference now. Real Team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. High-performance team is a group that meets all the conditions of the real teams, and has members who are also deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success. Agile principles, design-thinking, startup mindset and/or storytelling craft can help enhance the effectiveness of high-performance teams. It is in the small group of people so committed to something larger than themselves that they will not be denied.