How To Build High Performing Teams

Practical tips to ensure your team’s performance is greater than the sum of its parts

Having the right people doing the right thing at the right time is the one thing that will ensure the success of an organisation. We already know that there are many articles about how you can ensure your people know what is expected of them based on your specific business context, so we are not going to repeat those or bore you with generic details about defining, managing or encouraging staff performance. However, what many of these articles fail to mention is the direct impact of team performance on delivering your business ambitions. After all, if each member of your team is solely focussed on their own personal career goals as opposed to the greater organisational good, creating a culture of silos and un-collaborative work, can you really succeed?

At Let’s Talk Talent, we passionately believe that performance cannot be viewed in isolation and a triad relationship between the individual, the team and the organisation is always at play. This is something that goes to the heart of our values.

So the question you should be asking yourself is, what makes some teams successful and others not so much? What pushes people to want to go the extra mile and focus on the greater good as opposed to their own siloed objectives? We think we’ve cracked it. And we’re happy to share our Team Charter with you, in the hope it will spark conversations, encourage collaboration and impact your business’ talent strategy.

The Let’s Talk Talent Team’s Charter to building kickass teams:

1) What are your objectives?

Teams, by definition, require a common purpose, and whilst making sure that purpose is clear and well-understood is a basic requirement, ensuring team members feel personally invested and hold themselves accountable is even better. Team leaders have a key role here as they will be the ones rallying the troops and setting the tone for the internal culture that will drive everyone’s motivation to work towards a higher goal.

2) Who is involved?

A defined list of involved stakeholders seems like a fairly obvious must-have, but this should go way beyond actual team members. It should encompass a wide range of people from all areas of your organisations and specify who must be kept informed of progress, who to get approval from and who the budget-holder is. It then needs to take into account everyone’s information requirements and performance expectations. Some stakeholders will want detailed progress reports whilst others will require periodical executive summaries or budget updates. Working this out early in the process is key to avoiding misunderstandings and wasting time.

3)  What are your goals?

Objectives are all well and good, but are you clear on how you’ll know you’ve been successful? Have you drawn a picture of what success looks like and the checkpoints along the way to see if you’re getting there? After all, deciding that you will release a new online booking feature on your app sounds great at first, but not so much if it takes years to release, the feature is already obsolete and has cost more than you will ever make in ROI. Realistic and measurable goals are the only way to help your team figure out if they are heading in the right direction and course-correct throughout their journey.

4) Who will do what?

Again, the definition of teams involves a set of people with complementary skills. Where one role stops, the other begins. All neat and tidy right? Actually, this element of the Team Charter is where most confusion sets in. Roles and responsibilities are rarely this well-defined and whilst complementary skills are necessary for high performance teams to shine, so are mutual respect and honesty. Efficient groups understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations and can have safe, open and honest discussions about those.

McKinsey & Company state that:

‘The great professionals and greatest bandmates are confident in their abilities and humble enough to work to build others up, and themselves be open to learning. When this happens, there is mutual respect. When mutual respect is there, magic can happen.

Scott Keller, 2018, How to make your team R.O.C.K., McKinsey & Company

5) What are our milestones?

Any well-laid plan comprises of a roadmap and regular checkpoints along the way. Team objectives are no different, and the journey to reaching them should be clear for all to see. Agile teams are a great example of this. Using set time-boxed periods, members organise themselves and work towards a smaller, defined goal, with retrospectives along the way in order to pause and reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what should be done next time to improve efficiencies. Whilst not all organisation should suddenly claim to go Agile, the concept of planning deliveries, determining time limits and taking a breather after each smaller step does ensure the same mistakes do not keep repeating themselves.

6) What are our behaviours?

Google’s Project Aristotle studied the dynamics of effective teams and discovered key factors such as psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity all played an important part in driving results[1]. These have one thing in common: they have to do with how team members interact with each other. It would seem that setting ground rules and ensuring all individuals feel safe to express their ideas and opinions, a culture of respect and honest feedback and values of collaboration are some of the most important elements driving team efficiency.

But these things won’t happen overnight. In order to foster such an internal culture, team members have to feel connected to each other. We’ve all heard the example of the call centre manager who increased productivity by changing the coffee break schedule to ensure all members of a given team had a break at the same time. Whilst the forecast of $15 million per year in productivity increase may be hard to replicate, the idea of ensuring staff bond outside of official meetings is a proven efficiency booster.

Achieving high performance

Just like individuals, even the best teams will have highs and lows and performance should be viewed as a whole journey, not just a snapshot in time. It is important for the team leader to understand what caused these variations in outputs in order to better predict the future and calibrate performance. This could be done by resolving conflict, removing blockers, or facilitating a culture of transparency and regular conversations. As such, the role of the any leader is key to achieving corporate objectives and delivering your long-term strategy. Helping to motivate a group of people to go beyond their own performance and strive towards a common goal can be hard work. But the rewards are great. Whilst dissatisfaction, frustration and misunderstandings are bound to occur within teams and conflict is an almost unavoidable step within its lifecycle, getting past those using honest feedback and mutual respect will allow your business to deliver added value through values such as collaboration and shared commitment.

[1] Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness, re:Work

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