How to build a top performing team ?

Over the last 25 years I have had the privilege to be part of 3 very high performance teams. These have been wonderful experiences, and I thought I would resume this knowledge in its most basic form for a quick read.

Outstanding performance through teamwork.

Outstanding performance is driven by teamwork.  In sports, as in business, combining talented individuals together can lead to amazing performances.  There are many different ways to achieve this cohesion. Barcelona FC, for example, has achieved amazing heights in the last years through great teamwork combined with individual brilliance. Greece, on the other hand, won the European cup in 2004 with a very motivated team of good players.

The drivers for outstanding teamwork.

Different studies on this topic conclude that effective teamwork comes through the following attributes:
  1. Unanimous understanding, acceptance and commitment to the team objectives.
  2. Each individual must feel responsible for other team members.
  3. Respect between the individuals and understanding the skills each bring to the party.
  4. Open communication based on constructive and positive feedback.
  5. Ownership and accountability.

All these points are generally accepted as the key drivers to great teamwork. They are all pretty self-explanatory. Each great team has a different balance in terms of the weight of attributes.

The role of the leader / manager.

The first task of a leader / manager is to implement the routines, processes and create the environment for the attributes to grow.  To do this properly, a leader / manager must understand the dynamics of the group as well as it's culture. This is often the crux of the problem. It is delusional for leaders or managers to believe they can by themselves radically change the synergies and culture of a team. This may happen over a long period of time, with a lot of casualties, de-motivation, and only occasional reward. Many managerial failures are due to this point alone.

It makes a lot more sense, in the short term, to build on the positive characteristics of the existing team. In depth cultural change can only happen with time. For example, a team with a deeply grounded engineering background cannot overnight become a dynamic, highly flexible sales focused team. It is best to work with the engineering skills to boost quality and service whilst creating dynamic pockets of creativity and bringing in the right skills to enhance performance.

Once the dynamics and culture are understood and the roadmap created, it is important to remove the “roadblocks” and de-motivators. These can be quite different, but need direct attention. Here under are just 3 examples:

  • Personnel management systems promoting individual performance above teamwork whilst focusing on the negatives.
  • The salubrious state of the accommodations can be a real de-motivator.
  • Individuals with characteristics that will never fit and which create negativity.

It is recommendable to ask the team about their issues through an anonymous survey. One of my personal examples was the state of the toilet facilities in the 24/7 service desk I had just inherited. Due to the intensive usage and individual behaviour, toilets became extremely dirty leading to de-motivation. We worked with the building facilities team and the 24/7 team to get this fixed. We arranged for the cleaning team to come twice a day and the personnel where given a best practise guide. This was a quick fix and was a small start to a great upwards trend in performance and motivation. These are small things, but they can be easy wins and should certainly not be neglected.

The key points for high performance.

So, to resume, the key points to a high performance team are:

  • Understand the dynamics and culture of the team and build on the positive aspects. If the dynamics and culture are really not conducive for performance, then make a plan for change over time. But never go against these dynamics or culture.
  • Understand the team’s issues and remove the roadblocks.
  • Manage the team on a daily basis according to the 5 attributes mentioned above.

This will get you a long way in the building of a great team. Just don’t forget to do this all in your own style, with your own convictions and never recite management books theories without having made them you own. 

Date created: 25/09/2015       Date modified: 02/09/2021
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