Teams represent one of the most powerful mechanisms for achieving significant results in organisations today. Much has been learned about the development and implementation of teams over the past few years. We have seen what works, what doesn’t and the best approach for developing and nurturing teams. A new class of teams is evolving that has the potential to replace traditional hierarchical organisation structures with a flat, self-directed, cross-functional, process-oriented structure. These new, special teams, called high-performance teams, have the ability to easily adapt in a rapidly changing environment. They are an essential element for highly successful organisations.
Meeting organisation goals is the top priority for leaders. These goals include increasing business efficiency, creating competitive advantage, improving internal customer satisfaction, controlling costs and leveraging intellectual assets. The first question asked is, “How can this be accomplished?” Many organisations have struggled for an answer and few have found one that works.
For those organisations that have been successful, it starts from the bottom up, developing a strong team to develop and implement a solution that will meet the organisations goals. These unique, highly productive teams are essential for meeting critical organisation goals.
The benefits and value produced by these teams are abundant, which is why they are often viewed as essential business strategy tools. High-performance teams produce the following benefits:
1. Increased productivity
2. Improved customer service
3. Ability to do more with less
4. Increased innovation
5. Ability to quickly adapt to change
6. Ability to solve difficult, critical problems
Therefore, building high-performance teams is a top priority for many leaders.
Project Team Essentials – The Ingredients
So where do we begin? Like a great chef making the perfect souffle, we must follow a recipe that will deliver the best possible outcome. This recipe includes the ingredients, preparation and the process itself. If you forget an ingredient, add too much, eliminate preparation steps or change the process you will not end up with the results you are expecting. For leaders, this translates into ineffective teams that cannot meet critical business goals.
Trust your team. Your trust in them, theirs in you and the trust between the team members are the core ingredients holding everything together. You develop trust by setting guidelines for team behaviour and decision making, in which the team members have certain freedoms to make decisions, take risks and speak their minds. They will also have certain obligations to always speak the truth, work with other teams, be accountable for decisions and actions, and learn from their mistakes.
Leaders who have rules and policies for everything create an environment of bureaucracy and stifle team performance. The environment is orderly and structured, but leaves little room for team members to use their own judgment, take ownership or be motivated to complete tasks quickly. On the other hand, leaders who have no guidelines for the team run the risk of leading a team in chaos. Neither of these strategies work.
Implementing guidelines where people are trusted promotes an environment where team members will give their best, produce more and with improved quality.
High-performance teams share and support a vision of what the team will accomplish. Team members are highly focused on meeting their goals and objectives. Leaders work with the team to develop a vision that brings real meaning to the work that is being performed. The vision defines the future state and is clear, defined and concrete. The team needs a winning, inspirational vision that will motivate them to go above and beyond when the effort is required. Great vision statements might read “Triple the productivity of every manufacturing plant” or “Increase customer satisfaction to 100%.”
The next key ingredient is optimism. High-performance team members have dreams for achievement. These dreams are fuelled by the leaders optimism. It is true that team members will flourish when they have hope and they will give up when they don’t. High-performing team members thrive on accomplishment and the recognition they receive when working through difficult problems and persevering. This perseverance requires optimism.
The responsibility of a leader in an optimistic environment is to be both realistic and optimistic at the same time—not an easy feat. Realism is important because it acknowledges the facts of the situation no matter how unpleasant they are. An optimistic environment dictates that given the facts of the situation, the team will continue to work toward their goals. When teams lose optimism, it is the responsibility of the leader to coach the team to get them back on track. Together the team acknowledges the situation and begins to generate ideas for solving the current problem.
A leader must create an enjoyable work environment. Team members perform at their peak when they enjoy what they do and those with whom they do it. Enjoyment doesn’t mean you play cards all day long. Real enjoyment comes when the leader and team are deeply involved in working out a critical problem and they persevere together as a complete unit.
The leader sets the tone for the team. Setting the tone for an enjoyable work environment is accomplished by showing that you, yourself, enjoy your job, that you like the people you work with and that you appreciate their hard work. Thank team members for working through the weekend. Let them take a long lunch if they worked 12 hours the previous day. Praise them for new ideas. Never blame team members for mistakes—laugh and learn from them. Keep the team focused on winning instead of failing.
High-performance team members are self-directed. When empowered to accomplish a goal, these team members take ownership of their responsibilities and are committed to succeed. Leaders of high performance teams work to focus the team on what needs to be achieved. This “what” is defined as the vision, goals, objectives and milestones for the team. “How” work is to be accomplished must remain the sole responsibility of the team. When leaders start telling teams how the work is to be done, the team becomes unmotivated and performance drops dramatically.
The final ingredient for a high-performance team is developing an environment where team members can grow. Top performers need to learn new skills and be permitted to develop and implement new ideas to work at their peak. Creating an environment where team members can experience different roles, cross train, work with diverse teams and learn new specialties will develop team members who are more self-assured, who listen and who are more open to new ideas. This strategy of continuous learning will keep the team energized and motivated to perform at the highest levels.
A Final Word
As a leader, you have the power to influence the people and performance of the team. If you truly believe in creating an environment where trust, vision, optimism, enjoyment, empowerment and opportunity are encouraged, then you will build a solid, sustainable and high-performing team.