How to put your team to the test
It has never been so crucial to ensure your organisation is performing at its best at every level. Business consultant and author Jeff Grout explains how to create and cultivate a high performing team. Building a high performance team is one the toughest challenges many organisations and managers face because it requires the soft skills of management. Yet it is team performance that conveys the ultimate competitive advantage – an advantage that can make a huge difference to organisations. So how can you recognise the strengths and remedy the weaknesses in your own teams? Whether you are team leader or member, Jeff Grout offers some strategies you can bring to your workplace:
Follow the leader Performance management is too often about dealing with poor performance, when it should really be about stimulating and inspiring people. A high performance team has to have a clear vision and direction – and it’s up to the team’s leader to set that direction, providing clarity for the team about what it is trying to achieve.
If your team is struggling with this, the first thing to do is to seek the answers to the questions ‘What is our objective? and What are the immediate priorities? I use what I call the T-test (see below) to measure what I call ‘followship’ –or, in HR speak, ‘alignment’. This test involves a series of interviews along the horizontal axis of the senior management team – the members of the board – and along the vertical spine of the company – from senior manager, middle manager and team leader, right down to receptionist.
The first three questions of the test will clarify the overall objective, and the immediate priorities, and the next step involves asking each team member ‘What are you doing, individually, to contribute to those priorities?’ The answer to this question will give a measure of whether people are following a clear lead. In most cases, this round of questioning will produce an inconsistent response, and that can show that people are not pulling in the same direction.
Listen to be heard If you ask people along this horizontal axis of an organisation, ‘How good is communication across the organisation?’ they will usually say ‘Actually, that’s one thing we do quite well’. However, if you ask the people along the vertical, the response will generally be: ‘Actually, that’s the one thing we are really bad at’.
The reason for this frequent disconnect is that the people on the horizontal define communications as keeping people informed – you often hear people talking about ‘cascading’ communication. In contrast, the people on the vertical believe communication is having a conversation, and that is two-way.
Effective leaders listen first, to earn the right to be heard. This can be done using one-on-one briefings or team briefings, but what is important is to ensure that there is an opportunity for real dialogue.
One other common problem is that all too often, communication between leaders and teams centres exclusively on the What, How and When and sadly omits the Why. While it is not important for everyone to agree on all of these elements, people must understand the rationale behind decisions, so the Why is very important.
Big talk, little talk When I spoke to England Rugby Team Manager Martin Johnson about his approach to building a high performance team, he differentiated between ‘Big Talk’ and ‘Little Talk’. Big Talk, in his world, involved the tactics or the game plan that would be put into action on the field. But alongside this tactical communication, he told me, must come giving encouragement, giving information, and giving reassurance. That is the Little Talk, and Johnson says that it is what is what makes the Big Talk happen.
In organisations, we need the Big Talk as well – in this case it involves the strategy, or the mission – while the Little Talk is the ‘please’, the ‘thank you’ and the ‘well done’. And Johnson is right to place a great deal of importance on these elements. It’s the absence of them that causes a motivational lapse.
Leave space for inspiration In teams that perform at their peak, people take ownership and accountability. And they do this because the leaders let go, and leave space for initiative. Unfortunately, most teams are overmanaged and underled. In fact, you need to leave space for people to take ownership of ideas.
When Sir Clive Woodward was leading the England Rugby Team, he encouraged the team to develop its own teamship rules, to do with punctuality, dress, etc. Because the team designed the rules, they owned them, monitored them, and complied with them. Consider ways that your teams can incorporate member-led rules, initiatives and targets.
Measure your progress High performance teams measure their progress. Often in the HR arena there is a stark absence of analytics and metrics. High performance teams will measure progress through key performance indicators, and setting benchmarks, so that the goals and progress they make are demonstrable. It’s something that human resource departments often struggle with, since ‘soft’ outcomes are harder to measure. But they are not impossible to measure, for instance through an engagement survey, or through the T-test.
Embrace change Change is the most difficult thing that any organisation faces, but high performance teams have an appetite for change. They know that if they do what they have always done, they will get what they have always got. If they want to raise their level of performance, they have do things differently – and high performance teams possess an almost child-like curiosity about finding a better way, a quicker way, a more effective way of doing things. Using the T-test to unearth team-led ideas will both increase your overall effectiveness and motivate those who see their initiatives being taken forward.
Box: Take the ‘T- Test’
The crucial questions that reveal whether your team is on the right track. 1. What is the overall company objective?2. What are the immediate business priorities?3. What are you doing to contribute towards these priorities?4. How could you contribute more to the company?5. How could your colleagues contribute more?6. How is the company doing?7. How could the company do better?8. What is good about the company?9. What needs to be addressed?10. What gets in the way of progress?11. How good is communication within the company?12. What is morale currently like within the company?13. What can be done to create a more motivating environment?
©Jeff Grout, 2009
Formerly business manager to Sir Clive Woodward, Jeff is an independent business consultant specialising in leadership, people management, team building, peak performance, recruitment and retention issues. He is the author of Recruiting Excellence, and Mind Games: inspirational lessons from the world’s biggest sports stars and What Do Leaders Really Do?