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“There is nothing better than a high-performing team, but there are few things worse than a low-performing team.” How does this resonate with you?
Whenever I make this statement to my audiences, I get a surprisingly mixed response. This took me aback at first, so I began asking a clarifying question: “How many of you have ever worked on a truly high-performing team that accomplished great results and loved working together?” When I ask for a show of hands, typically only about 10-20% of hands go up! That finding is not only scary, but points to perhaps your biggest obstacle as a leader of a team – most people don’t know what a good team looks like, nor do many even believe one is possible. Far too often, teams operate more like a group of Minions playing football/soccer than a highly-functioning unit (notice the fake dive for the red card – priceless!).
In my previous post, we covered the two steps required for preparing your team for success. Now comes the hard part – ensuring team execution of their agreements and expectations. Here are the final three steps you can take to enable your team to become a performance machine, using the model of Top 50 Global Thought-Leader John Spence:
1) Track and Post: Do you have a publicly visible scorecard for your team? The old adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is true in this case. Transparency of progress and results is critical for accountability, because people need to know where they stand in relation to their goals. A scorecard or other form of progress-tracker at both the team and individual levels should be posted somewhere highly visible to the team, and updated as frequently as makes sense. Sales organizations often do this well, but I see this less frequently with internal groups and functions – I recommend it for all. This not only enhances performance and clarity, but it signals to your team that you are serious about execution. Naturally, your low performers will be uncomfortable with this, and that’s ok – it is part of their necessary growth process in order to improve their performance. Your high-performers will love it. Most importantly, you should help your average to above-average employees see this as an opportunity. They often have the greatest ability to improve their individual and overall team performance, and to become top-performers themselves.
2) Coach Individually AND Collectively: How, and how often, are you actively coaching your teams? Coaching takes on additional importance in the team environment because you not only have to coach the individuals, but you must also coach the team as a whole on how to work together. Most people are unfamiliar with the processes and disciplines of great teams – as such, teams will often need significant help establishing and sticking to team processes, particularly early on. Open-dialogue and continuous improvement is of obvious importance for driving performance, and coaching can close small performance gaps before they become big ones. Yet I am still amazed at how many leaders vastly underestimate the importance of this vital leadership skill.
3) Rewards/Consequences for Performance AND Behaviors: Finally, once you are tracking and posting progress, and coaching to the gaps, you must incent your team members with rewards and consequences. However, you not only want to reward strong goal achievement, but also the behaviors that lead to that goal achievement. For example, if selflessness is going to be essential for your team achieving its objectives, then be sure to praise the team members every time you observe or hear of it. On the flip side, mediocrity and poor performance cannot be tolerated. If a team member is unwilling to abide by the performance standards and agreements they themselves initially agreed to, then they must either improve their performance or leave the team. As difficult as this is for a leader, refusing to take action will cause the engagement and performance of the rest of the team to plummet.
One of the most painful mistakes I made as a manager involved an employee who was clearly underperforming on both individual skills and teamwork. However, the team overall was performing at a high-level, so I allowed her performance to lag. Sure, I talked about it with her, but I never took action to require a change in her behavior. Eventually, team camaraderie disintegrated due to what the other team members perceived as lower standards for this employee, while their engagement and performance also dropped significantly. When I finally had no choice but to take firm action with the struggling employee, I had to come down much harder on her than I would have if I had addressed the issue sooner. This was not only unfair to the employee, but cost my team significant performance, trust, and job satisfaction. Do yourself and your team a favor: Praise strong performance and behaviors frequently, and address performance and behavior gaps quickly.
“There is nothing better than a high-performing team, but there are few things worse than a low-performing team.” Follow the five steps we’ve discussed, and you will be well on your way to creating the team you always dreamed of: Clear Expectations, Agreement, Track & Post, Coach Individually AND Collectively, and Rewards/Consequences for Performance AND Behaviors. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Suggested reading sources for deeper info:
Organizational Management: Awesomely Simple by John Spence
Team Leadership: Leading Teams by J. Richard Hackman
High-Performance Teams: The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
Team Discipline: The Wisdom of Teams by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith