Creating a High Performance Team at Work
Any successful business needs to have the employees working together as a team with the aim of achieving the common aim for which the business has been setup. The size of the business is immaterial, as this concept of teamwork is applicable to any and every business, starting with large multi-national corporations like Citibank on one end of the spectrum to a small single city business on the other end of the spectrum, and also includes everything in between. Teamwork is defined in thefreedictionary.com as a “co-operative effort by the members of a group or team to achieve a common goal”. In other words, teamwork implies that team members should understand that their work is interdependent, that they are striving to achieve a common goal, which encompasses their personal goal too, and that the common as well as personal goals are accomplished best through mutual support.
Importance of a Common Goal
A business that operates without a well defined and articulated common goal will not be able to achieve optimum performance even though it may have a lot of talented individuals. This is so because in such a situation, these talented individuals are more likely to work in a manner that emphasises their own personal achievements rather than working towards optimisation of the business performance. Research has shown that people working towards a common and unifying goal have overcome all odds in terms of resources, capital, and processes to produce stellar performances. It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that this goal is thus clearly defined, and articulated. In many cases the leader could even take the help of the team members to set a realistic and ‘just beyond reach’ but ‘achievable with effort’ goal.
Teams comprise Humans too!
Having done that, how does a leader go about creating a high performance team? It is best to think about the basics of a team; teams are comprised of individuals, who have come together for a given purpose. It must be remembered that it is individuals in the team who learn, change, commit, act and produce results, not the team or the company. These individuals are thus an important starting point for creation of the team. Individuals perform best when they are convinced that they and their counterparts are professionally competent; that they are valued members of the team; their contribution and their opinions matter to the team and to the leader; and also that they will be recognised for the same. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that the team members are so convinced, through his behaviour, words and actions. Also, it is the leader’s task to create the conditions necessary for the same by focusing on promoting a collaborative, high standards, goal oriented environment that encourages effective communications, active participation of the team members in the decision making process, trust, respect, and a results driven structure.
What Every Leader Needs to Know
'What' and 'Why' of the Goal
The leader assembles the team and gives them a glimpse of his/ her vision in which he/ she clearly defines ‘what’ needs to be achieved, and what are the resources available in terms of people, finances, timeframe, etc. He then emphasises the minimum standards that need to be met and convinces everyone on ‘why’ achieving these minimum standards is so important for the company, and also for each individual in the company. The ‘what’ and ‘why’ provide the goal/ vision, and the motivation to the team members. He does this to create stakeholders out of team members in a genuine win-win arrangement. This is not an easy task, and to do this the leader would have to give very careful thought to the linkages between the goal, the individuals, the team, and the environment. The leader would have to lead by example to convince each individual in the team of the need to put in their best. I can personally vouch to the efficacy of using this approach, and its excellent payoffs. Having set the basic ground rules, the leader then leaves the stage open for the team members to come in with the ‘how’ part of achieving the goal.
The First Meeting, and Beyond
The ensuing discussion would set the tone for the kind of team that is going to slowly evolve, as team building is a process. The process of team building would of course take the team through the forming, norming, storming and performing stages in due course, and may take a few team meetings. The first meeting would lay the ground for the number of meetings and time it would take for the team to reach the performing stage. The leader has a major role to play to expedite the process by encouraging open, free, and two-way communications between the team members, and between individual team members and the leader too. The communications should be focused on building a roadmap through interactive discussions. The leader’s only job is to ensure that no one person monopolises the discussion, as also to ensure that no one remains a silent spectator. His leadership position should be prudently and effectively utilised to silence the vociferous members, and to involve the quieter members into the discussion, with open questions like “Ms Y, let’s hear Ms Z’s view on _____”, and “What is your opinion on ______, Mr. X”. Many a times conflicting views may bring about a conflict, leading to personality clashes. It should be remembered that conflict is part of human interaction and should be treated as opportunities to listen to new ideas. Conflicts should be resolved constructively by focusing on ‘what is right’ and not ‘who is right’.
Involvement of everyone helps in bringing in new ideas that act as catalysts for innovation and creativity, which are the trademark of any high performance team. The whole aim of involving everyone is also to build commitment in every member of the team, thus ensuring that the team is on its way to achieve high performance, through exemplary teamwork. The leader can now effectively hand over ownership of the results, to the team. In other words, the leader can effectively delegate, along with the requisite authority for execution and responsibility for the results. The leader leads with questions to clarify/ solidify the member’s ideas, and to align them with the goal, guiding them to make the “right choices through a process of discovery”. The leader does not ‘tell’, he listens, questions and guides. The involvement, the questions, the guidance are all part of a plan to build commitment and team relationships so that the goal can become a reality with the team working synergistically.
Trust, Respect and Synergy
Synergy is defined in thefreedictionary.com as, “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects”. Team members need to be convinced about synergy, about how 1 + 1 can produce more than 2. This can only come about in an environment of openness, trust, respect, consistency, and togetherness within the team, all of which is crucial to building team relationships. No one is going to take risks of attempting to do something different which could lead to higher performance, without this environment. This in turn should be fully supported externally by company policies that encourage relationships; collaboration rather than competition among members. In the absence of trust, people are not ready to share ideas, thoughts, observations or doubts openly. This withholding is directly responsible for reduced innovation, reduced resolution of doubts, and reduced collaboration, which in turn leads to a significant drop in performance of the team. The success of any team is greatest when the level of collaboration produces this synergistic effect and should thus be aimed for to create high performance teams.
A Symphony of Four Committed Minds
Recognition and Reward
High performance teams comprise of humans too. Humans are social animals and thus have a need for social acceptance and recognition. Once an individual is accepted as an equal member of the team one part of the social need is fulfilled. Individuals want to be recognised and rewarded for their individual as well as team efforts and achievements. The recognition or reward does not necessarily have to be monetary; it could be in the form of a formal weekly, or monthly written/ oral communication. I have personally used a monthly recognition cum situation review letter which comprised of four paragraphs on a single A-4 size page. This letter published on the first day of every month highlighted what we had set out to do in the previous month; the results achieved; and what we planned to achieve in the coming month. The last paragraph thanked everyone for their active participation and asked for suggestions for achieving the coming month’s tasks. This communication was published and circulated, and was followed up by a team meeting where recognition was done through oral communications. All this and other measures led to much improved performance of the team.
It is my belief that most people want to work; work well and responsibly, and love to be members of a winning team. A winning team comprises happy faces, motivated individuals, and high performance. A winning team can be created by an effective leader through articulating a well defined goal that is accepted and committed to by every member of the collaborating team. Winning teams come about through good teamwork, synergy and effective leadership