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Building high performing teams – practical tips to get started [Blog]

Picture of building high performing teamsIn today’s environment where functional teams are being challenged and resources are often scarce, having high-performing teams is critical for organisational success. But what exactly is a high-performing team and how can we build one?

In their book ‘The Wisdom of Teams’ Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith define a high-performing team as ‘a small number of people with complimentary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach which they hold themselves mutually accountable to, and has members who are deeply committed to one another’s growth and success’.
This may sound idealistic or perhaps like an impossible task but it can be achieved and you will be rewarded. In this blog, I’ve shared a few tips to get you and your team on track to becoming a high-performance team.

1. Become a high-impact manager

As always, a great team starts with a great leader and central to any high-performing team is a high-impact manager.
Phil Harkins, a communications and leadership expert explains that being a high impact manager requires a manager to:

  • Truly mean what they say.
  • Don’t mix messages, fudge meanings or use ambiguous words.
  • Have conversations that are always candid, clear, and followed by committed action.

Ultimately, the mysterious team ‘click’ which managers chase in the hope of creating an effective team is no magic. It’s a result of hard work and rigorous management and, often times, holding a mirror to one’s self.
Practice your leadership and ask yourself if you are providing the strong leadership, clear messages and coaching necessary to build your team’s capability.

2. Communicate the vision

Set clear expectations and goals and make sure every team member understands how they contribute to achieving the team’s purpose and organisational objectives. Follow up as things shift and change throughout the organisation to make sure everyone understands the changes and how they relate to them. Most importantly, follow up on those expectations and standards you set and help your team improve where required.

3. Feedback

Create a culture of feedback. Provide ongoing, regular positive and constructive feedback to your team both collectively and individually. To ensure your feedback is meaningful, you can use the SBI model:

  • Situation: Identify the situation
  • Behaviour: Describe the behaviour
  • Impact: Explain its impact

An example of how you may apply this model is:

Situation: “At this morning’s team meeting when you were presenting the dashboards”
Behaviour: “One of the slides had incorrect information and you were uncertain about the meaning of one of the graphs”
Impact: “As your team leader, I felt concerned those listening would be thinking we do not know our material well. I’m worried that this has impacted the credibility of our team”

Following the feedback, encourage the employee to reflect (you can use the GROW model which I talked about in my previous blog on coaching). Also, you should give them the opportunity to explain their side.

If the feedback is intended to improve their performance, make sure you provide them with guidance to help improve in the future. Most importantly, if you are encountering any performance issues, deal with them immediately – don’t let things fester. This is the number one killer of a happy team! If keeping your team engaged and performing to the best of their ability is what you are after, deal with issues as they arise.

4. Create an environment where it is ok to make mistakes

Ask yourself, does your team trust you to have their back? Are they confident to make their own decisions, knowing that you will support them and help them if things don’t quite go to plan?

Create a safe space for team members to make mistakes and work together towards improving. This will require setting some ground rules so that everyone is confident that space is there.

Provide the team with the tools and confidence to go and deal with things and be brave to test new ideas. This will reward you as the team becomes more innovative and adopt a problem solving approach. It is ok to provide some parameters (so long as you don’t stifle the enthusiasm), but more importantly it is important to make sure the team can assess their ideas before progressing. This means you will need to trust your team, and might take some time to get them there.

5. Recruit the right people

To ensure you have a strong team, one which you can build a strong performance ethic amongst, you need the right people. The team success depends on having the right mix of skills as well as the right attitude and leadership capabilities.

Be clear about what skills and behaviours you want and need in your team, and make sure that any selection process rigorously tests those before you bring any new members into the team.

Is Building High Performing Teams worth the effort?

Phil Harkins quoted a manager in a large aerospace company that concisely summed up why it is worth investing in building a high-performing team. That manager said “It’s a lot of work to get a team to ‘click’. It’s a lot more work to live with a team that doesn’t click”.

So while building a high-performance team may not always be an easy task – it will take time and effort – it is always a worthwhile goal to set, and one that has significant rewards.

To get started, focus on step one articulated above and take it from there.

About the author

TMS Consulting