Thursday, April 2, 2015

Characteristics of High Performing Teams


The CEO of the small startup tech company was visibly frustrated and upset. Once again the company had missed the profit targets for the month and the downward trend was getting steeper every month. They had a great technical solution needed by the market and adequate funding to implement their strategies. They had hired very smart people with great compensation and benefits, plus they provided a first class working environment. As she analyzed the data it became clear the issue was the common human element – lack of teamwork.

Personal leadership charisma and skills are indispensable to becoming a successful leader but who the leader leads is even more important. Selection of team members for individual job fit is a familiar topic for regular readers of the Employee Whisperer. When all the team members are assembled and begin performing, the leader, much as an orchestra conductor, needs to develop coherence and harmony among all the individual performers. Strategies, policies and processes provide basic direction. Supplementing those with regular feedback and relentless communication, the team is positioned to succeed but the remaining constant challenge is to produce results and consistently increase performance. The stress of the challenge to keep growing and improving will undo average teams, however high performing teams have characteristics that enable them to excel in similar conditions.

Developing the characteristics of high performing teams was described in detail by Patrick Lencioni in his book Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators. Those five characteristics are quite simply: trust; conflict; commitment; accountability and results. In our work with leaders and their teams we use the analogy of a pyramid with trust as the foundation. If team members do not have trust and confidence in themselves, each other, the leader, their strategy, the organization and its vision the structure will eventually crumble. However with trust firmly established the team can begin to work through inherent conflicts of individual perspectives. Communication skills, personalities, and positive attitudes about collaboration often need to be developed to productively identify and address conflicts. Once the conflicts are resolved the team can advance to the level of commitment and define goals, objectives, mutual expectations, directions and culture. When commitments are made accountability naturally follows. If the team members are not mutually accountable to their commitments performance will erode and falter. The results, the top of the pyramid, is of course why the team exists. Everyone needs to know the score and understand if the team is winning or losing as well as be clear on what they need to do to increase performance and contribute to the teams results.

If a team is not producing the expected results a basic diagnostic process is to drill down through each layer of the pyramid to reveal the defective characteristic. It isn’t easy to drill to the lowest layer so average leaders don’t do it, but solidifying every level of the pyramid is what every great leader does.

Make it a PEAK day!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Contributing Member on a Winning Team

The most common and critical business relationship is between an employee and their boss. While leadership responsibilities certainly make the boss primarily responsible for that relationship, every employee needs to have ongoing conversations with the boss in five key areas (based on The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins). If the boss isn’t initiating the discussions the employee must take the initiative.

1 – Be clear on the situation. There are vastly different implications whether you are in a start-up situation; turn around; realignment; or sustaining momentum of recent success. Besides knowing where you are at the moment, it helps clarify the contribution you are expected to make to the team.

2 – Articulate and understand expectations. Following naturally out of understanding the situation; defining what is expected, by when, and how will help both parties establish a deeper understanding of what they each will give to and get from their work together. An important element of expectations is defining how performance is evaluated and measured for compensation changes.

3 – Figure out a style of working together. There are many different ways for a boss and employee to work together. Rather than taking a trial and error approach to finding what will work for both parties, it is far better to have a deliberate conversation and agree on a style. Elements of style include communication, feedback, progress updates, questions, and problems. For example, will we meet at planned intervals or as needed; in person or by phone or e-mail; one on one or at team meetings; written reports or verbal updates.

4 – Agree on resources available. Resources include budgets, equipment, time, people and facilities. A clear understanding of what you have or don’t have available to do the job is a critical component to defining and meeting expectations.

5 – Develop a plan for accelerating success and ongoing professional development. Everyone has something more they could learn and skills to add or develop. Beginning a dialog about these at the start establishes development and professional growth an inherent job element and a mutual recognition of current strengths and opportunities.

The best time to have the first round of these conversations is during the interview process. When open discussions in these five areas are ongoing natural interactions between the leader and the employee, success is more likely and both people will feel like contributing players on a winning team.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Execution

The team was really excited about the strategic plan they put together last year. They had analyzed the market, anticipated what the competition would be doing and set several key goals for what they wanted to achieve. 2014 was going to be a record year – but in reality it will barely be ahead of 2013 and that was nothing to brag about. People seem to be taking it in stride without too much disappointment. After all, they knew they had worked hard all year. Also they have seen other strategic plans come and go. Usually ‘reality’ sets in by mid-year and the goals are essentially forgotten.

This is a tale heard often from teams, businesses, non-profits, individuals and families. Plans and resolutions are made in January but by December they often become stories of disappointment rather than the success anticipated. The difference in success and failure is usually not the strategies or the plans but rather the execution of them.

As Stephen Covey explained in The 4 Disciplines of Execution strategies fail for four key reasons: people don’t understand the strategy; if they know what it is, they don’t understand what they can do to help achieve it; they are not sure how well they are doing to know if they are making progress; and there is no timely individual feedback and accountability. 

The secret to successful strategies is to have no more than two to three major goals; focus on lead measures that people know they can control as well as directly influence the goal; make a compelling scoreboard that tracks the lead measures; and have regular accountability and feedback meetings to celebrate progress and adjust to overcome problems. Those disciplines along with people who fit the job and a leader who helps them feel and fare better create an outstanding team.

We hope you had an enjoyable holiday season and have a successful 2015!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Always Do Your Best

In the last posts we have been highlighting The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz as a guideline for improving both life and business results. The first three agreements reviewed were Be Impeccable with Your Word; Don’t Take Anything Personally; and Don’t Make Assumptions.

The final agreement is Always Do Your Best. Having a commitment to this agreement means not cutting corners or just getting by. It is being intentional about putting in full effort to develop and apply your skills and effort to what you have said you would do. It also implies you need to be your best by maintaining physical, mental and spiritual vitality. The author summarizes it this way. “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” 

The four practices are at once simple and difficult. Initially they are quite challenging but when learned and fully integrated into your way of being they are powerful and life changing. To review them check our newsletter archive. We appreciate your continuing updates and feedback about your journey on this path from those of you who are following it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Don’t Make Assumptions

‘She’s just impossible to please’, the young accountant mumbled to himself after he left her office. He had prepared what he thought was a great analysis of the issue she asked him to investigate and yet she was upset because he didn’t do it her way. Meanwhile she sat at her desk wondering if he will ever get it right and if he has any potential to grow and improve. Of course skill and technical matters may be the problem but very often it is a matter of communicating and understanding expectations. It happens in our personal lives as well. “I thought when you said we’d stop in on the way to the lake you meant for a few minutes. I didn’t know we would be with those people all afternoon and most of the evening!”

Assumptions we make are one of the most common obstacles to good communication. We tell ourselves stories about what the other person meant, intended or wants. Then we respond or react to the assumptions as if they are facts. When one or more other people do the same the compound effect can lead to further problems.

Continuing our series highlighting The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz the third Agreement is ‘Don’t make assumptions’. That is done by careful listening, asking good clarifying questions, and not avoiding difficult topics. Also it means being in touch with our own emotions and finding ways to honestly articulate them to ourselves as well as others rather than acting out so the other person knows we’re upset. This one agreement can transform lives and relationships.

On its own not making assumptions would be difficult to do but by adhering to the first two agreements; “Be impeccable with your word’ and ‘Don’t take anything personally’ it can be much more natural. To review those you can check our newsletter archive.

We appreciate your continuing updates and feedback about your journey on this path from those of you who are following it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Don’t Take Anything Personally

In business and life in general being a self-proclaimed victim is an easy way to explain why things didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to. The economy, weather, government, boss, co-workers, family and other people can seem to have it in for us and are not doing what they ought to do. It may be simpler if others were accountable to us for doing what we need but in reality that is clearly not so.

Continuing our series highlighting The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz the second Agreement is ‘Don’t take anything personally’. It means others are doing what they do, not because of you, but because of their own reality and perceptions of themselves. When you can be completely independent of the good or bad opinions of others you are no longer dependent on them or a victim of them. Consequently you don’t depend on, or suffer from, their actions and words. It’s not personal, it’s just them.

With this and the first Agreement highlighted
last month, “Be impeccable with your word”, relationships and communication start to change along with our personal development. We look forward to hearing more about your journey on this path if you are following it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Be Impeccable with your Word

Developing a high Do/Say ratio starts with being deliberate and very intentional about what you say. That is why this month we begin a brief overview of the key principles in The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz and the first Agreement: ‘Be Impeccable with your Word’.

Being impeccable with your word is not just suggesting you need flawless grammar, although skill in that area as well as a large vocabulary will certainly help. The guidance is to speak with integrity and say only what you mean. Clich├ęs (‘it’s a win –win’ or ‘let’s talk later’) and filler phrases (‘I’ll have it to you soon’) are often spoken with little thought and consequently do not fully convey an accurate meaning or mutual understanding. Gossip or even speaking about others when they are not present takes you away from integrity. Likewise self-deprecating remarks hurt others, as well as yourself, because they are not accurate and diminish perceptions others have of you.

It is not easy to develop the practice of being impeccable with your word but it will have the biggest influence on improving your Do/Say ratio. Keep letting us know how it works for you.