When discussing coaching for team development on our training courses, I will often begin by asking my participants to recall a time when they can remember feeling part of a high performing team, and then to make a list of the qualities that team had. No two lists are ever the same but the following qualities appear time and time again and can thus be considered core. As an aside, it is interesting to note that during this exercise the majority of people draw on experiences outside of work. It seems that there is a long way to go before the quality of team working in organisational life matches that found in high performing sports or other teams.
My experience suggests that this is the single biggest point of differentiation between a truly high performing team and a team that is ‘good enough’. We have noted the power of goals throughout these posts and we know their use in providing a point of focus for the individual. Without a goal, an individual may lose their way and waste energy. Without a shared goal, members of a team work against each other as different agendas and disagreements about the way forward collide. The lack of a common goal does not merely hold the team in neutral it creates backward momentum.
The first thing to say here is that effective leadership is not the preserve of the nominated leader. In a work situation, the leader of the team is not necessarily the person with the word leader in their job title. In a high performing team, leadership has a dynamic quality; there is movement and change. A good leader will generate empowerment in the team, allowing team members to play to their strengths and exercise responsibility, but they will take control when the situation demands. A good leader will recognise that at particular times it may be another member of the group that effectively takes the lead but are not threatened by this.
If there is any area of work that cries out for a focus on quality rather than quantity it is surely communication. “We’re hopeless at communication” staff lament on survey questionnaires or Works Council meetings. The typical management response is to issue more communication; memos, emails, staff notices and now… blogs, tweets and intranet pages. We are all drowning in communication and the problem is in keeping up. In high performing teams communication is a matter of ‘less is more’. Key messages move rapidly across the team, ensuring people are clear about what they need to do and have the time and space to do it.
A high performing team will have a vibrant mix of skills, abilities and experiences. In a work context this extends to a vibrant mix of ages, backgrounds, nationalities, creeds and so on. I would encourage you to view this as a business imperative rather than a political nicety. A diverse team will be able to draw upon a much wider range of ideas and experiences when faced with the new and emerging challenges of our modern world. The diverse team will have the flexibility to move with the times that will leave the homogeneous team redundant.
Praise and recognition
As long as it’s sincere you cannot give too much praise. Certainly a high performing team will feature liberal doses of appreciation, constructive feedback and acknowledgement. Often this is done in a very public way whereas any problems or criticisms are aired ‘in-house’
With these qualities in mind, we’ll next consider how we can use coaching to develop a team towards this point.