NO ONE SHOULD underestimate the challenges involved in leading a team. In today’s global business environment, it usually means bringing together and getting the best out of people from different cultures, of different ages and with diverse academic backgrounds, aspirations, experience and financial expectations.
No two individuals are the same, which is why managing people and getting them to cooperate effectively can consume so much of a leader’s time and attention.
Creating a successful team takes considerable effort, but it is essential if an organisation is to prosper. It has a direct bearing on operation efficiency, the ability to hit sales targets and get better annual results. Also, any company which functions as a well-knit team will find it easier to bring about change and capitalise on new opportunities.
Despite this, business leaders often see developing teams and building corporate spirit as a lower priority. The vital task of team development then gets relegated to nothing more than a monthly lunch with select employees or the occasional email with a few words of encouragement or congratulations. Certain leaders believe team-building simply requires off-site meetings with external consultants, or office dinners and holiday parties.
But they are missing the point. Creating and sustaining a high-performing team is not a one-off activity. The process demands action and reaction every day.
To make progress in this respect, a leader must first determine where the team stands. This can be done with the help of a model for measuring performance adapted from The Wisdom of Teams, by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith. It looks at the dynamics and life cycle of a team regarding effectiveness and performance.
Working groups are at the low end of the measurement matrix. A working group is not really a team. It is a selection of people sharing a common task. Their output is a sum of individual performance. To illustrate, imagine a group of 10 individuals who input information for an online database. They work separately, and each person’s payment is based on the amount of data he or she feeds into the database. The only way to increase productivity is by assigning extra people to the task.
Pseudo teams are teams in name only. They have none of the disciplines needed to promote greater unity and effectiveness. In fact, their lack of discipline and procedures can make them dysfunctional to the point where they achieve less than a working group. In the business world, this is often seen when people from different departments are brought together to work on a major project. They have their own ideas, processes, priorities and requirements. You can be sure that many of them will be thinking that the approach is flawed and that they could recommend a better way of getting results.
Teams in creation
This is a transitional period or building phase. It is when individuals come together with the conscious objective of creating disciplines necessary for consistent performance and effectiveness. This gives the team a framework and includes setting goals, defining group processes, delegating responsibility and working out interpersonal relationships. Team creation is the first step towards developing team unity. In some cases, it is relatively fast and painless. In others cases, however, the process becomes time-consuming and fractious. Arguments may arise about over authority or areas of responsibility, and people allow minor details to delay progress.
Once there is a clear framework and defined purpose, the team is well on the way to becoming cohesive. At this stage, fine-tuning and adjustments are necessary as the group learns to work together and interact. The building blocks for ongoing success and achievement are now in place. From this point on, synergy should mean that the team's total output is greater than the sum of its parts; that is, each individual's contribution. When this happens, the return on investment of time and effort becomes noticeable.
At this level, the team will be performing very effectively and will have the processes, discipline and understanding to achieve specific targets and broader objectives. Champion teams produce results when the pressure is on and exceed expectations. If a team member leaves, the others are able to adapt, help a newcomer to integrate and move on as before. Champion teams drive business results. If leaders have built their teams the right way, the organisation will see the benefits and be in a position to reap the rewards.
Inevitably, there will still be ups and downs, and no team can expect things always to run smoothly. Economic factors, competition, internal dissent and changing goals can all lead to unexpected problems and disharmony. When this occurs, it is time to go back to the fundamentals. By rebuilding the foundations and reviewing the fundamental principles of the team, it will be possible to set new goals, overcome conflict and establish improved work processes.
Leading a team is never easy. If you want to lead a high-performing team, make a realistic assessment of where you are now and then put the right framework in place. Also, regard team-building as a priority task that requires attention every day, not something to think about every few months.
TIPS TO WIN
A high-performing team will have a recognised set of principles and standards as a framework to get them through good times and bad times. There are certain key elements which are a common purpose, clearly understood roles and responsibilities, processes to make decisions and solve problems and, finally, interpersonal skills to sustain effective relationships.
Every team needs goals, whether they are expressed as a vision, a mission statement or financial targets. All team members must understand precisely what they are working towards and why. Once that is established, everything the team does should be linked to the overall purpose of reaching their goals.
Roles are about the allocation of tasks and accountability. They ensure that team members live up to expectations. For the leader, there is the responsibility of making sure the roles assigned to individuals will add to the team's success. Each role should be clearly defined and aligned with the overall mission. If the team is to function well, there must also be the necessary range of competencies, with each person given the support to accomplish what is expected of them.
Successful teams are made up of people with diverse personalities, styles and talents. As the leader, you should aim to create openness, acceptance and trust. This is best done by encouraging feedback, respecting others’ opinions and allowing people to speak up. Also, make sure the team accepts different communication styles and realises that each person adds value in his or her own way.
Every team needs processes, but these do not have to be set in stone or involve endless red tape and writing of reports. The processes should be in place to enhance interaction and speed up actions and decisions. They should be designed to support planning and assist in problem-solving and communication. You obviously do not want or need to be restricted by self-imposed restrictions, but a clear method always helps in improving performance and achieving desired outcomes.