8 critical factors for Leading High Performing Teams
What is a High-Performing Team
High performing teams are the holy grail of organizations. Put simply a high-performing team is a team that can consistently provide results. Think the A-Team. No matter the odds, no matter the obstacles they were able to stand up for the little guy, every time no matter what!
These teams work effectively, handle conflict positively, and can work autonomously. They have “chemistry” or “the right stuff”. High performing teams are more productive, more effective, and more cost effective. But they don’t just happen. There has to be an intent and a follow through and even then there may be difficulty in actually creating and sustaining high-performance.
One study found that only “35 percent of senior executives from mid-sized organizations feel that the teams in their organizations are achieving their potential”. Another study demonstrated that while 71 percent of the organizations said they thought high-performing had a positive impact on their organization, only “34 percent of those same organizations said they do not have a strategy to improve team development”. Wow!
Knowing high performing teams are beneficial but not having a strategy to create and sustain those teams is worrisome but more common that you might think. When we work with executives and their organizations our strategy is to take a multi-pronged approach to engagement. Our process has helped organizations hit targets in 18 months that they had missed for the previous 5 years! If you would like to find out more, you can schedule a 30-minute strategy session and we can game plan a solution.
So many factors go into creating a high-performance culture and high-performing teams. EY identifies
- clear, achievable goals
- a shared commitment
- clarity of roles and responsibilities
- a sense of purpose
- clear processes and procedures
- joint accountability
- focus on delivering results
Leadership and High Performance
All of the elements listed by EY are functions of team leaders. So I want to take a look at the impact of leadership on high-performance beyond the list they have outlined.
The context and the leader’s rapport with the team plays a role in the team’s performance. Think about your experience, when your team leader was aloof, caustic, or otherwise unsavory were you inclined to perform at a high level? I’m guessing not. When you had a good rapport with your supervisor were you more likely to go above and beyond? I’m guessing yeah!
Leaders and followers create the cultures that lead to high or low performing teams. Leadership plays a large role in overall productivity. The Ritz Carlton blog notes ” supervisors have a big impact on worker performance.” But we knew that already didn’t we?
1. Give Productive Feedback
Productive feedback allows your employee to understand what was expected, see their successes and misses, and grow from the experience.Share This Idea
Feedback is the life’s blood of improvement. Productive feedback allows your employee to understand what was expected, see their successes and misses, and grow from the experience. Bad feedback does none of that. One of my bosses in another career and lifetime would always tell me “Oh, you did great.” When pressed for more information on how I could improve, he would say, “I can’t think of anything.” This isn’t feedback, it’s filler and it’s patently unhelpful.
Without positive your team members are left wondering if they met expectations. With bad feedback, they may just be left wondering. Uncertainty is a drain on people and time. Instead of leaving your team members in limbo give them productive feedback and focus on what they did well and where they can improve.
2. Get to know their team members (individually)
It can be easy to get lost in the hectic pace of meetings, meetings, and more meetings. No seriously, I get it. But there is a lot of value in getting to know your team members as individuals. It goes back to rapport. When you know them and they know you believe in them your employees will want to excel.
Since you lead individuals that comprise a team it’s imperative that you get to know them. Only then will you understand their needs, motivations, and ambitions. Knowing those things will allow you to implement the right motivational strategies that resonate with your employees.
3. communicate expectations clearly
Communication shows up in almost ever list of high performance requirements. Like giving feedback, it’s so simple and obvious it can be easily missed. There is no faster route to mistakes, misunderstandings and missed deadlines than unclear directions. It’s often because you think that you can be brief because they “already understand” or “they get it”. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
I’ve sat in boardrooms and in meetings and watched intelligent leaders under-communicate expectations, parameters, and completion states. When I point it out, the leaders often feel that they were being clear and the “shorthand” should have been understood. For a more complete treatment of this topic you can read my post on 4 Ways to Set Clear Expectations.
4. handle team conflict
I talk about conflict a lot because there’s a lot of unresolved conflict. Conflict doesn’t have to be toxic. Toxicity is a byproduct of negligent leadership. Most leaders are conflict-adverse, but they should anticipate conflict and create cultures where it is welcomed because it can’t be denied.
Conflict is one of those parts of the human experience and therefore the team experience that can be planned for. It’s naive to believe that it won’t affect your team. The best plan of action is to anticipate conflict and shape your team culture to deal with it productively. I discuss healthy conflict in this post.
You have two ears and one mouth and you know the rest. You don’t have to have all the answers as the leader. You should have great questions that stimulate your team members to think and come up with their own solutions. Listening is a leadership super skill. I mention it as one of 7 Leadership Skills that will make you a better leader.
You can fall into the “answers rut” when you believe that your answers are how you provide value to the organization. What I have witnessed, and if I’m honest also done, is feel that I have to have a great answer for every question. This can stunt your team’s ability to solve their own problems over time.
6. take the blame and share the credit
High-performance teams often need to take risks and try new solutions and they need to know they won’t be in jeopardy if things don’t go to plan.Share This Idea
Have you heard the term “top cover”? I learned the term when I was conducting leadership training with the military. In our context it’s the idea that good leaders handle the heat from their supervisors without throwing members of their team under the bus. This one is difficult for a number of reasons, but necessary for the team to be emboldened to try new things and take risks. High-performance teams often need to take risks and try new solutions and they need to know they won’t be in jeopardy if things don’t go to plan.
7. Leverage accountability
When there is consistent, positive accountability performance is high. When there is negative or no accountability performance is mediocre.Share This Idea
From my experience, accountability is a high-performance litmus test. It is a leading indicator for high-performance. When there is consistent, positive accountability performance is high. When there is negative or no accountability performance is mediocre at best.
As the leader, you set the tone and your team will follow. When you increase accountability consistently across all of your direct reports, you will see a few things occur: some will balk, some will step up, some will leave. When done correctly, accountability shines a bright spotlight that no one, including yourself, can hide from.
8. Celebrate Victories
Use those small victories to motivate your team to keep pushing toward the big victories.Share This Idea
There’s a reason that sports have scoring systems and clear paths to victory: touchdowns, baskets, goals, etc. There’s a reason that game shows tell you the rules. That reason is that people like, no love to win. Wins should be followed by celebrations. National championships and hometown heroes are met with parades and fanfare.
I’m not saying you need to have a parade when you finish your project but I am saying that you should celebrate the milestones. Use those small victories to motivate your team to keep pushing toward the big victories.
- Leadership has a tremendous impact on performance.
- Leading high performing teams requires specific leadership skills and behaviors.
- You can lead high performing teams.