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How Do You Build Team Performance? (VERY CAREFULLY) (Part Four of a Series)

March 1, 2010

rethinking teamwork

In my last post, I talked about The Five Levels of Teams: Where Are You on the Team Curve?. Today, we move into the really challenging part of creating teamwork. Are you ready?

There’s no ideal approach to building a team. A team must learn as it’s developing a preferred approach to how it will function in getting the work done. What’s important to remember is that performance is at the core of building a strong team. Performance serves, in effect, as the compass to moving a team up the performance curve (click on the above link to see the curve).

Here’s an eight point framework for moving a team up the performance curve (adapted from Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, The Wisdom of Teams).

1. Create a sense of urgency
Everyone on the team must believe that the team has urgent and worthwhile purposes. The greater the urgency and purpose, the more likely that a real team will emerge.

2. Select members by skills, not by personalities

Effective teams need complementary skills. The three broad types of skills are: technical, problem-solving, and interpersonal.

What’s critical for the potential team is to achieve the right balance in skills. But it’s not necessary for members to have all the technical skills immediately. Instead, the key is to have the needed skills at the team’s start-up and the ability for members to acquire additional skills later on. Key skills that should be learned at the start-up include interpersonal, problem-solving, and team skills.

3. Give sufficient time to initial meetings

This is a vital time in a team’s development. The first few meetings involve members getting to know one another. Assumptions are either confirmed or destroyed. Members watch the leader to determine if his or her actions are consistent with what is said. Is the leader control-oriented or flexible? Is the leader sensitive to how members react to his or her style? Can the leader change behaviour?

4. Establish rules of behaviour

A real team has a set of rules to guide it  a code of conduct. Without rules, it’s impossible for a group or potential team to transcend to a real team. At the early stage, rules include: attendance, confidentiality, open discussion, constructive disagreement, and fair workload. These rules encourage participation, openness, commitment, and trust.

5. Set some short-term goals

Doing this helps create some momentum to propel the team forward. It ensures that the goals are reasonable and can be reached fairly and quickly. And it acts as a great motivator.

6. Shake them up with new information

This is especially important for intact teams because they tend to block out new information. An example is a management team that’s given new information on employee attitudes and perceptions from a survey. The team reacts in surprise. Giving a team new information serves as a catalyst to the members to help them refocus on the team’s performance. It’s also dangerous for members to assume that they hold all the necessary information collectively.

7. Interact at work and outside

A team must not just spend a lot of time together at work but also time together outside of work. This is especially important during its early stage of development. Members need to have fun, both at work and outside. This promotes a bonding element. Potential teams are weakest here and must make conscious efforts to include socializing.

8. Recognize team performance

Achieving a high level of performance is a team’s ultimate reward. But before that’s reached, it’s vital to recognize the team for its progress and achievements. Doing this keeps the team’s members focused and motivated.

Take a moment to share your experiences on how you’ve built team performance.

Next Post: What Kind of Team Player Are You?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2010 10:54 pm

    I am enjoying all your posts on team building, Jim. Your suggestions are great. However, they assume that you have control in selecting the people for your team. When I’ve worked in corporations in the past, I was always assigned the people who would work with me. Some were great and others I would have gladly fired if I’d been allowed.

    The real challenge in building a successful team is molding a group of people not of your choice and getting them to cooperate, contribute and be constructive.

    • March 1, 2010 11:06 pm

      Thanks very much, Susan.

      Indeed. Selecting your own teammates versus having your teammates as part of a management transition or reorg or joining a new organization. This IS the leadership challenge: getting everyone on the same page, pointed in the same direction, sharing a common purpose and mission. And it’s why many people in companies and government don’t want supervisory leadership roles. Note the word supervisory (or managerial). Leaders abound at all levels of organizations, but theu work from different perspectives, eg, thought leaders (where I’ve been for a long time); relationship builders; customer champions; change catalysts, etc.

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