High performance in teams doesn’t happen by accident. When I think about the teams I’ve been part of where we performed really well over time, in each case, this high performance wasn’t accidental. It was carefully nurtured by the leader of that team. These leaders were purposeful in doing a few specific things.
Here are some of them…
Five ways to build high performance into your team culture:
1. Get to know your team (and help them to get to know each other)
Get to know each of your team members as a person, not just as a (ugh) “resource”. Spend time getting to understand their strengths, what motivates them, their family, what conditions bring out the best in them at work – and where they are less competent and confident. Then adjust your leadership style to suit. Schedule regular one-on-ones with your direct reports for starters and make time in the agenda to explore these things as well as what tasks need to be done.
Make time to have “how are we going?” conversations, as well as “what are we doing?” conversations as a team. Schedule time as a team to take a step back, reflect on what is working well and how you can improve when it comes to how you’re all working together. It doesn’t have to be naff team-building days. A half a day, once a quarter, to collectively look at what you need to keep doing, stop doing, start doing or do more of in order to function well as a team (with lots of space to just connect) can do wonders.
2. Get clear on what good looks like, then reward it when you see it (regularly)
Get clear on what good looks like. Make sure your team are crystal clear on what that ‘good’ looks like. Tell them when they do it.
Seems simple huh?
When highlighting good performance, or a behaviour you want to encourage in your team, its useful to follow the SBI rule of giving feedback. This was the situation, this is what you did (behaviour you noticed) – and here’s the most powerful step – here was the impact. “Good job” ain’t that useful because it’s generalised.
You don’t have to bump up salaries or shower your team with elaborate gifts to show your appreciation. It’s often the small, frequent and thoughtful actions that feel truly meaningful to people. Think outside the box. Can you write an old-fashioned handwritten note that specifies what they did and how it contributed to the team’s success? Positive feedback doesn’t need to cost anything. Don’t pass up an opportunity to tell people when they’ve done something well.
3. Let your team own what you want them to solve
When your team members face a problem, it’s an opportunity to help them learn. While your natural instinct as a leader might be to jump in and offer solutions, sometimes it pays to take a step back and let them figure it out themselves.
That doesn’t mean you throw them in the deep end and hope they’ll swim. Or leave them to figure it out themselves completely. A few choice coaching questions like “What does success look like in this situation?” or “Let’s explore our options with x in mind”, combined with regular feedback along the way, will lead them to the solution they knew within themselves all along. Bonus? You’ll get commitment, not just compliance, as they have contributed to the solution.
4. Build trust within your team
This should really be point one. Building trust with (and within) your team is your first priority as a leader. You’ll be in for a bumpy ride if you don’t. Check out this post I wrote on the two types of trust and how you can build it.
In high-trust teams that I’ve worked with as a leadership coach (and been part of) there’s what leadership author Patrick Lencioni refers to as, ‘vulnerability-based’ trust. If you’re a fly on the wall in a high-trust team, you’ll hear phrases such as “you’re better at this than me”, “I’m sorry”, “I’ve made a mistake”, “these are my weaknesses and I’m working on them”, “I need your help”. And its leader-led. The leader models this first before asking their team to display it.
5. Help the team to uncover each other’s strengths and differences and work out ways to capitalise on them
I recently published a blog on how to identify our individual and team strengths. When a team is operating from their strengths (and are aware of their differences), they not only perform better, they’re more engaged. Bonus: research has shown that working from your strengths more over time helps to buffer against burnout.
One tool I recommend for uncovering strengths is the Sweet Spot Development Model. It gives people the opportunity to step back and assess the activities they enjoy doing and are most successful at.
The leaders of the best teams I have been part of did these five things. They realised that high performance wasn’t just about having high performing individuals. It was about harnessing the power of the team. And they didn’t leave that up to chance.
Related: Sensemaking: What It Is, Why It’s Important Right Now