When you listen to and read business reviews, you know that every successful business credits its success to motivated and creative teams and to their valuable team members. One could come away with the impression that businesses just have to increase the number of teams and all performance indicators will improve drastically. If we analyze team performance, however, we find that fewer than 10% of teams can truly be considered high performance and a whopping 40% are dysfunctional, destroying motivation and engagement. The remaining 50% of teams are performing marginally, never producing more than incremental results.
For all the key programs like Lean Manufacturing or Lean Office, Six Sigma or Continuous Improvement, high performing teams are the key to get the benefits and sustain these change programs. Therefore it is crucial to understand the current level of team work in your company. How do we know and how can we measure this without relying on subjective statements like “we work well as a team”? The best way is to look at the areas high performing teams excel in. We consistently find that they set themselves apart in the following five areas:
- Team culture; feeling save to be vulnerable, to open up and to contribute and to build on others’ ideas and suggestions
- Pushing each other to create new possibilities and creative solutions that are pushing the envelope
- Holding each other accountable for outcomes and behaviors during and outside the teams’ meetings
- Aligning around decisions and
- Focusing on results
Most try to assess their teams by looking at lagging indicators, like reaching milestones on time and on due dates or financial measures attached to the overall goal for the team. The challenge with this approach is that, by the time these measures are available, teams have worked for a considerable time and it is too late to change the outcome of their work. Would it not be beneficial to diagnose a team’s potential and performance in real time? Here are 4 strategies which will give you unbiased and fast feedback:
1) Interaction and feedback
Teams thrive when their members are courteous to each other, taking time to fully understand where team members are coming from and are expanding each others’ ideas to create new possibilities which were previously thought impossible. We can measure those interactions by recording how many positive/encouraging comments versus negative/degrading comments are made during meetings. Because negative emotions are much more powerful than positive ones, high performing teams consistently show ratios between 3:1 to 7:1 (positive to negative). Anything above 8:1 signals artificial harmony and avoidance of tackling tough issues, while ratios below 1:1 are signs of failing and dysfunctional teams.
For many, conflict is scary and needs to be avoided at all cost. This is true when we are talking about negative conflict or combat where team members are personally attacked and the main focus of some members is winning at all costs called “my way or the highway”. High performing teams take the time to thoroughly discuss critical challenges, to exchange their experiences and ideas openly in order to collaborate on finding the best possible solution. In most cases, this is a solution none of the team members could envision at the beginning of the meeting. Record how many team members are actively participating in the idea generation and selection process. High performance teams strive for equal participation by all team members, while dysfunctional teams will have one or two team members dominating the discussion.
Critical decisions should only be made after all team members have contributed to, aligned with and bought into the developed idea. All team members will be deeply knowledgeable about the important details and can defend the decision based on facts. Dysfunctional or “ok” teams agree to decisions made by the most vocal person on the team and will show no commitment to follow through with the steps outlined for implementation.
High performing teams excel at holding each other to the same behavioral and performance standards and enforcing these standards without the team leaders’ help. Two easy measurements are:
4.1) Do team members show up on time and are they well prepared for the team meetings
4.2) Are disruptions (side conversations, checking e-mails, playing with electronic gadgets, etc.) kept to a minimum
When team members don’t enforce standards and rely on the team-leader to enforce rules, their message is that they do not care enough for each other, don’t understand that it is their responsibility to speak up, get engaged and put in the necessary work.
After determining your teams’ performance level, the hard part starts: determining and fixing the underlying causes for challenges discovered. Depending on the area selected to start the improvement, team performance can be significantly increased with tweaking the team make-up and providing team specific coaching. Some cases, however, might only be influenced by casting a wider net, encompassing the entire company culture, leadership and communication styles and the cultures of accountability and feedback. Team performance is highly dependent on all these areas and, in most cases, we have to start with engineering and initiating a culture change in the leadership to have a profound impact on team performance and sustainability of team results.
Give us a call, we can support your efforts with impartial assessments, leadership and executive coaching, team training and team coaching programs.
About the Author:
Dr. Joe Mayer is the Managing Partner of the Mayer Business Group, which helps small to medium size businesses grow their employees and their bottom line by focusing on leadership, vision and strategy. Joe is a certified business coach and has 25+ years of experience in leading divisions of publically traded and privately held companies. Joe can be reached at JMayer@MayerBusinessGroup.com.