Teams are a powerful asset for any organisation. However, unlike a sports team, we rarely spend time practicing being a team. While most organisations can acknowledge the positive impact of an effective team, particularly in leadership, few create a plan to make this happen. Looking at how your team is assembled and structured, how it functions, its strengths, blind spots and developmental requirements could be the single best thing you do for the success of your business this year.
Where to start
If you are wanting to build a high performing team, its members need to know that this is their “primary team” and not a secondary one. Leaders often think their own team of direct reports is their primary team. However, their commitment and aligned focus must be to the primary team and its direction, goals, and strategy. This mindset will facilitate the breaking down of silos in an organisation.
It is also important to consider the size of the team. While leadership collaborations like to be inclusive, they can be too big to be effective. A team with more than ten members can suffer from efficiency, effectiveness and alignment problems, whereas smaller groups will ensure strong relationships, healthy debate and actioned decisions.
There is no algorithm for putting different people together in the complex roles required in a top team, so design and development are critical. If the CEO can successfully play the role of developer, the leadership team will function more effectively and members will learn to think differently, both individually and together.
Understanding the right mix of people in terms of skills, experience and personality is key to ensuring a productive team. Getting that wrong, even by just one individual, can have far reaching impacts. Too often, we promote people who are technically strong in their own roles but put little thought into a team’s collective capability.
Get the diagnosis right To improve performance, self-awareness is a must have for a team to develop effectively and master its strengths, potential fracture lines and know its blind spots and gaps, both individually and collectively. Likewise, the CEO/team leader needs to understand what makes members of the team tick individually and what makes them work (or not) as a group and talk openly about this to facilitate introspection and provide insights into behaviour, shared responses under pressure and unconscious bias.
Use of a diagnostic tool is helpful here. Options include assessment tools such as personality or a team 360 survey to provide a map and understanding of strengths and performance improvement areas.
Commonality versus diversity
Truly understanding the skills and characteristics needed for a cohesive team will ensure a balance of traits – too much commonality is not a good thing.
Diversity of thinking with different “hats’’ around the table is important. This will ensure that members complement one another and, when done well, it will create a high functioning team.
Teams typically focus on functional roles (our technical role as defined by the position title) but our “psychological roles” can be more impactful. This is the informal roles individuals gravitate towards based on their personality e.g. focus on results versus relationships, pragmatism or process versus innovation and change. A high preforming team has a balance of people in these roles. Too much of the same thing and the team can miss leading the organisation in the right direction.
Keys for a high performing team
Research by leadership specialists Winsborough found key characteristics that effective leadership teams have in common.
1: Focus – Having a shared and clear brief of objective and goals. As such, spend time and energy to establish vision and set the focus.
2: Development – Having a conscious reflection on the team’s performance and investing time in development and improvement to improving team dynamics.
3: Norms and decision making – Having a clear process for decisions with no hidden agendas – consensus among members is achieved via constructive debate.
4: Trust and healthy conflict – Teams that trust their colleagues and have some conflict is healthy. Often teams are conflict averse, but the ability to be transparent, give constructive feedback and address team dynamics is crucial for success. A good team will give opinions, debate issues and hold each other to account. Lack of conflict can lead to artificial harmony. In Patrick Lencioni’s work “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, a lack of conflict is found to be just as damaging on team morale as harsh and direct conflict. Remember, good conflict requires a foundation of trust and if this is lacking in your team, developing trust needs to be your starting point.
5: Contribution to team – By participating, holding up their end of the role and adding value, members can create a more effective leadership team. Lencioni refers to this as commitment followed by accountability.
Building and developing a team is a process that never ends. It requires ongoing commitment and investment of time and energy, but the advantages are great and the rewards are plentiful. If you want to know more about how to map and develop your team, please contact Andrea Stevenson. firstname.lastname@example.org