Team Building 301: Effective teams learn to decode and improve performance
Several high-performing global teams with members from different cultures and backgrounds demonstrate that humans can collaborate meaningfully with large numbers of people they are not related to.
However, several teams are dysfunctional and are unable to achieve their potential.
Sometimes, conflicts occur at lower levels in situations that are not high stakes; therefore, the team dysfunction is not consequential.
Unfortunately, several leadership teams fail to attain top performance.
This undermines overall organisational performance and diminishes the outcomes available to their stakeholders.
On a few occasions, team conflicts are so intense that nothing is achieved and organisations fail.
How do these happen? In many organisations, achieving top team performance fails for one simple reason: Many leaders mistakenly believe that team effectiveness will occur because team members know each other or have been together for some time.
Hence, there is no attempt to “team build” even when a new management team is constituted.
In Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline, he introduces seven learning disabilities that go undetected in organisations. One relates to how a team functions; it's called the "myth of the management team".
The management team is the highly skilled professionals representing various departments in the organisation.
As management team members, these individuals are expected to think and resolve the complex cross-functional challenges that the organisation is going through.
Without a proper attempt to team build, the team will certainly not achieve its full potential.
Members care more about protecting their departments and egos, which stands in the way of organisational learning.
Senge argues that without actively learning and adapting to changing circumstances, management teams falter, which affects overall organisational performance.
When leaders realise that the team is not working, they turn to team-building activities rather than learning about their teams.
Unfortunately, as one leader puts it, the focus here is "forcing individuals not interested in playing together to play together".
The over-reliance on "team-building activities" makes teams feel good only for a moment and then return to the usual ways of working when they return to the office.
As an employee, I have been part of many company away days and team retreats.
Also, over the past decade, I have facilitated several successful team retreats that have put teams on a path of top performance.
Hence, I do not discount the role of team-building activities. However, I take a different view.
Team building activities must be situated in their proper context; otherwise, they lose the power to create the change we desire.
I share four main elements of the learning and team development process that every team must embrace.
Embed a scientific approach:
Leaders must base their team development process on science. We must observe our teams keenly, ask questions and seek answers through tests and experiments.
Data must drive decisions to improve team effectiveness. Leaders can track several aspects of team dynamics to improve performance.
We have seen this happen at the highest levels in many teams.
Several tools and approaches enable this, yet only a few management teams have invested in these resources.
Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan's simple process of asking individual team members to answer two questions: (1) "On a 1 to 10 scale (with 10 being ideal), how well are we doing in terms of working together as a team?" and (2) "On a 1 to 10 scale, how well do we need to be doing in terms of working together as a team?" helps gather the data need to improve team performance.
Data must also support decisions on improving the team's composition and relationship dynamics.
Behavioural science enables us to understand how individuals prefer to work, make decisions and relate with others.
Team members, especially the management team, must have this knowledge of their colleagues that aids them in working with each other.
Focus on the critical elements of team performance:
There are several elements of team performance. Teams often focus on the financial outcomes of the team performance.
These are the results. A scientific approach to improving performance requires that team members decompose performance elements rather than focusing on specific financial outcomes such as team sales.
Other critical performance elements include professional development, team well-being, trust and focus on core values.
Collecting essential data and tracking performance on these elements allow teams to evaluate their performance holistically and take corrective actions to improve overall team performance.
Consider “push” and “pull” factors:
Teams that seek to achieve top performance must give equal attention to reducing the impact of factors that take away from their performance while emphasising elements that accelerate team performance.
Factors that take away from team performance include lack of accountability, commitment and fear of conflict.
Factors that accelerate team performance that should be on the radar of all team members are structure, role clarity, and psychological safety.
Again, there should be a scientific approach to recognising and working on these factors.
A simple practice of asking team members to rate how that team performs on both "push and pull" elements, followed by actionable recommendations, is very effective in the team development process.
The team can determine whether performance has improved over time when this is reviewed a couple of months later.
Maintain a journey perspective:
Team members must acknowledge that team development is a journey and aspire to increase levels of performance over time, not just in the ultimate outcomes of the team but also in the conditions that generate performance.
No team achieves its full potential from the word go. There is always room for improvement. Team members must acknowledge that it's a learning journey.
They recognise that the current observed performance and the challenges are a stage in the journey, and they constantly work together to improve team dynamics and performance.
Great teams recognise and accept the moments of celebration, courage, vulnerability, fear and fun as part of the journey.
Teams become better when members of the team learn to decode the elements of team performance, track them and work on improving them over time.
…..be of good cheer!
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Programme, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory. The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice. If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to