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Building high performing teams

A practical guide 

Today’s meeting takes us to the fictional offices of ‘AlwaysBuyMore’: A 20 year old organisation with around 2000 employees and operating in ten countries. For the purpose of this article I have created an example by drawing from my experiences. I’m meeting their Chief Digital Officer (CDO). To summarise the thinking of a CDO: she wants growth, and she wants it yesterday!

During the meeting the following frequently occurring issues arise:

  1. The organisation has stopped growing, in fact they plateaued a few years ago. They feel like they are stuck.
  2. For years they’ve been getting bad reviews from customers at the same stage in their journey.
  3. Projects are being highly prioritised for unclear reasons.
  4. The middle-management are forced to police the employees, causing unrest amongst the workforce.
  5. The board sees the need for urgent change but are hesitant.

So how does the CDO get AlwaysBuyMore to the next level?

Forming the management team

In my previous article, balancing intelligence and healthy teams, I talk about the natural urge that most leaders possess to look for smart solutions. Let’s try a left field approach this time, and take a healthier route to solving your problems.

Our Organisation Coach, Twan Biemans, believes that “organisational change isn’t simply a top-down or bottom-up process. It should happen simultaneously, from both the core and the top.” In this article I focus on the senior management team however, the same process can be effectively applied to any team. After all, the process of reforming core teams and senior management is pretty much the same.

Climb Lencioni’s Maslow Pyramid to success

When working with senior management, our goal is to form a cohesive team. Twan often exemplifies this video by Simon Sinek, in which he compares the process of forming a perfect team to a marriage. It takes a great deal of time and patience to build a deep romantic bond, and forming a top performing team is no different. It requires consistent investment of energy, even when the short term doesn’t always yield measurable success.

As described by Lencioni; a team is cohesive when it has the five dysfunctions removed as much as possible. These qualities are laid out hierarchically in a pyramid. After all, you can’t build without a foundation. As it is with everything; the difficulty is not in the ‘why’ or ‘what’, it is in the ‘how’. For this reason I’ve added practical exercises you can do today to remove dysfunctions.

1. Trust
You must have heard this a thousand times; the foundation of every team is trust. What I mean by this; trust based on vulnerability. Are team members comfortable enough to admit to their mistakes? Dare they ask for help from a colleague who is clearly more knowledgeable? A team has no chance of resolving any other dysfunctions without this foundation.
Therefore it’s essential as team leader to invest sufficient time in trust. For example, by organising regular team events, be they large or small (find some inspiration here). In addition, the all time classic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be used. Not only for the results, but going through the process as a team is also beneficial.

2. Conflict
Where there is trust, there can also be conflict. Infact, an occasional collision is necessary for achieving good results. Many people tend to avoid conflict. They fear hurting feelings and damaging relationships. This creates a dangerous artificial harmony, in which people are less inclined to challenge each other. Something that’s imperative to achieving innovation and improvement. It’s when you avoid conflict and don’t speak up that underlying irritations are created, and the relationship is doomed to fail.
Bear in mind: there are good and bad ways of having conflict. Choose wisely ;-).
In my experience, having one person responsible for conflict works well. In many cases it’s the leader who tends to throw the cat amongst the pigeons from time to time. Be sure that everyone also knows that this person is consciously playing “the devil’s advocate.” Afterwards, communicate very clearly that conflict is positive for team performance. This way, you prevent team members from experiencing both the situation and the perpetrator negatively.

3. Commitment
Commitment naturally follows conflict. When people feel heard they are more inclined to cooperate, and follow the chosen path. There are two aspects to achieving commitment:

  1. Clarity about the decision. Without assumptions and ambiguity.
  2. Buy-in. Team members want their ideas to be heard, understood and considered. If their ideas are not implemented, they would like transparency as to why something else was chosen.

Do you want to check whether your team agrees with the decisions made? Try writing the decisions on a whiteboard five minutes before the end of the meeting. Make it a strict requirement that all attendees communicate these decisions to their own teams. If any attendee won’t commit, they will be more forthcoming with their concerns.

4. Accountability
Only when you have achieved trust, conflict and commitment you can remove the most common dysfunction; lack of mutual feeling of accountability. As an organisation, you want to move towards a situation in which a person feels accountable for the agreements they have made. And furthermore, dares to confront a colleague about their decisions. Your team member is not afraid to enter into a conflict with a colleague. They are confident the colleague knows they only want to help improve everything.
Lencioni recommends using The Team Effectiveness Exercise. In which everyone must realise that if you don’t offer a colleague your feedback, you’re not only holding back their personal development, but that of the entire team.

5. Focus
Many people feel caught out when they realise that they are too focused on their own results. Make no mistake: everyone, even natural “team players” has a tendency to put themselves first, its human nature. The difference with a team player, however, is the fact that they are able to prioritise their teams goals over their own.

I am yet to find the perfect training to develop this form of focus. However, something that’s been proven to help is creating a visual dashboard which shows both qualitative, as well as quantitative team goals. Sharing this with the entire organisation makes it much easier for them to give feedback to each other.

Okay, and now what?

In an ideal world, you’d work through these points one by one, in the above order. In reality, however, you’ll notice that you often need to switch from one to the other and back again. And that’s fine, as long as all of the points are covered.

Do you feel that the management team of AlwaysBuyMore are able to tackle their company issues better when they:

  • Have vulnerability based trust
  • Have healthy conflicts on a regular bases
  • Are more committed on decisions
  • Hold each other and theirself accountable for the work that has been done
  • Have focus on team results over personal resultsThat’s right!

    Do you feel like your organisation is stuck? Don’t worry because you are not. It’s just time to try a left field approach; it’s time you focus on your people.

Written by:

Commercial Growth

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