Building high performance teams Building high performance teams

Building high performance teams
30 Nov 2015

There are a number of things that make a team - at least two people, a common goal, resources such as time, space and a budget to operate with. These are only the very basic elements of a team. HPTs will learn and exhibit certain qualities, as described by highperformanceteams.org:

• A shared vision of a future state to work towards
• Time oriented and work to deadlines to achieve results
• Communication to keep themselves and everyone else informed
• Working in the ‘zone of concern’
• Quality checking/lessons learned to constantly improve importance
• Involving everyone - each team member has something unique they can bring to the table
• Innovation - managers ensure they instruct as to ‘what’ needs to be done (the ‘how’ should be left for them to decide)
• Celebrating success to build the team’s morale. Each achievement celebrated, no matter how big or small.

Designing a team charter

An important part of establishing a team is putting a team charter together. This should define the tasks the team will work on, the scope of those tasks and the boundaries within which the team will operate. If you don’t have a team charter within your overall function (if you report into human resources do they have a charter you should be following, or finance?) then you should create your own. Ensure you communicate this with your organisational leader and have their agreement and buy-in.

Forming an HPT

Teams are usually formed to either make or implement decisions. Members are selected for their area of expertise and/or their ability to use their authority or influence to ensure the implementation is a success. HPTs are expected to decide on how a change is to occur and to actually make it happen. Whoever is responsible for selecting the team needs to consider this and choose a selection of people who are influential thought leaders, as well as those with varied backgrounds and experience. A diversity of experience, knowledge and perspective will help the team develop mutual trust and respect quickly.

Adding or removing team members is an area where things get tricky and non-traditional, but is essential for a HPT. You should not impose a new team member on an HPT: ideally they should be involved in the selection process. Before you even start looking at candidates, ask your team what skills they feel should be brought to the team and ideally they should be involved in the interview process. If the team are involved in the decision making process they will be more committed to ensuring the final decision is the right decision.

Unfortunately it will sometimes be necessary for someone to be removed from the team (for various reasons) - a lack of skills in a particular area and a lack of interest in developing them, personality clashes, the pressure of other projects or personal issues that can mean a person can’t meet their commitments to the team.

Adding or removing team members is an area where things get tricky and non-traditional, but is essential for a HPT. You should not impose a new team member on an HPT: ideally they should be involved in the selection process. Before you even start looking at candidates, ask your team what skills they feel should be brought to the team and ideally they should be involved in the interview process. If the team are involved in the decision making process they will be more committed to ensuring the final decision is the right decision.

Unfortunately it will sometimes be necessary for someone to be removed from the team (for various reasons) - a lack of skills in a particular area and a lack of interest in developing them, personality clashes, the pressure of other projects or personal issues that can mean a person can’t meet their commitments to the team.

In any event this can be a very delicate situation for the manager to handle. Honest conversations need to be had with the individual, both by the manager and the team. These should focus around expectations. What is happening compared to what should be happening? What is at stake if things don’t change? If this doesn’t work, then the manager has to be prepared to take action. The team member will need to be reassigned if that is a solution or dismissed.

This is a difficult time for the whole team and ideally the manager should talk to the team about it to reach a consensus. A consideration during this time is that the manager might need to take action if they feel that the team want to carry the underperforming member. It would be highly unusual for a team to assume responsibility for a decision to remove someone from that team, or it might just be that the view is that the underperformance is temporary and support is needed for a period of time, rather than this being a permanent issue. Ultimately, it is for the manager to decide what needs to be done.

Establishing an HPT

HPTs can be introduced for several reasons, either to achieve a significant business purpose, or to make dramatic improvements to processes. Teams are usually cross-functional and they will have a good understanding of the end to end processes that need to be improved. There will normally be a process owner in the team who will coordinate activities and be the one who is the communications interface between the team and the organisation.

Key characteristics of a HPT are trust, respect and support. Members will need coaching in this. Initially as the team forms levels of trust will be low as trust has to do with loyalty, which in the early stages will be to the teams original function or manager.

In the early stages team members are likely to question or criticise the need for the team or the value of their time - they could be working on something far more important. They will often report back to their original manager who will feedback to the HPT manager. The manager needs to call out this negative feedback (without naming and shaming) so the team can discuss the issues raised. It won’t take long for the negative reports to stop if team members realise they might get found out – they won’t want to risk negative feelings from their new team members.

Another difficult thing for the team to learn is that there needs to be a level of trust and respect for each other’s abilities. It is natural that one team member will try to do most of the work and some other members may let them. This is not the way an HPT works. Everyone needs to do their part. If it becomes apparent to a member that they cannot meet their objectives for any reason, they need to let others know and ask for help. This will build up trust, rather than saying nothing and causing a task to fail.

Once that call for help is made the team members need to examine their own remaining tasks and work together to ensure that the help is not going to cause another part of the task to become jeopardised.

‘I’m alright Jack’

It is in the best interests of the team to help and support each other. One thing that usually happens in a non-HPT team is that one person will always help someone else in particular, but this is not echoed throughout the rest of the team. This can’t be allowed to happen in a HPT - all members should be involved in at least looking at how the help can be provided - who has the best skills and the most available time, regardless of who is asking.

If one team member is always struggling and getting a reputation to the point that other team members are less inclined to help, then the manager may need to consider whether that person is right for the team and start those honest conversations.

HPTs often have one or more team coaches, who are responsible for teaching team behaviours and ensure guidance and training is available when needed. We will talk about that in the next article on High Performing Teams.

By Jeanette Hibbert

In her second part in her series on high performing teams (HPTS) Jeanette Hibbert looks at what really makes a team.

There are a number of things that make a team - at least two people, a common goal, resources such as time, space and a budget to operate with. These are only the very basic elements of a team. HPTs will learn and exhibit certain qualities, as described by highperformanceteams.org:

• A shared vision of a future state to work towards
• Time oriented and work to deadlines to achieve results
• Communication to keep themselves and everyone else informed
• Working in the ‘zone of concern’
• Quality checking/lessons learned to constantly improve importance
• Involving everyone - each team member has something unique they can bring to the table
• Innovation - managers ensure they instruct as to ‘what’ needs to be done (the ‘how’ should be left for them to decide)
• Celebrating success to build the team’s morale. Each achievement celebrated, no matter how big or small.

Designing a team charter

An important part of establishing a team is putting a team charter together. This should define the tasks the team will work on, the scope of those tasks and the boundaries within which the team will operate. If you don’t have a team charter within your overall function (if you report into human resources do they have a charter you should be following, or finance?) then you should create your own. Ensure you communicate this with your organisational leader and have their agreement and buy-in.

Forming an HPT

Teams are usually formed to either make or implement decisions. Members are selected for their area of expertise and/or their ability to use their authority or influence to ensure the implementation is a success. HPTs are expected to decide on how a change is to occur and to actually make it happen. Whoever is responsible for selecting the team needs to consider this and choose a selection of people who are influential thought leaders, as well as those with varied backgrounds and experience. A diversity of experience, knowledge and perspective will help the team develop mutual trust and respect quickly.

Adding or removing team members is an area where things get tricky and non-traditional, but is essential for a HPT. You should not impose a new team member on an HPT: ideally they should be involved in the selection process. Before you even start looking at candidates, ask your team what skills they feel should be brought to the team and ideally they should be involved in the interview process. If the team are involved in the decision making process they will be more committed to ensuring the final decision is the right decision.

Unfortunately it will sometimes be necessary for someone to be removed from the team (for various reasons) - a lack of skills in a particular area and a lack of interest in developing them, personality clashes, the pressure of other projects or personal issues that can mean a person can’t meet their commitments to the team.

Adding or removing team members is an area where things get tricky and non-traditional, but is essential for a HPT. You should not impose a new team member on an HPT: ideally they should be involved in the selection process. Before you even start looking at candidates, ask your team what skills they feel should be brought to the team and ideally they should be involved in the interview process. If the team are involved in the decision making process they will be more committed to ensuring the final decision is the right decision.

Unfortunately it will sometimes be necessary for someone to be removed from the team (for various reasons) - a lack of skills in a particular area and a lack of interest in developing them, personality clashes, the pressure of other projects or personal issues that can mean a person can’t meet their commitments to the team.

In any event this can be a very delicate situation for the manager to handle. Honest conversations need to be had with the individual, both by the manager and the team. These should focus around expectations. What is happening compared to what should be happening? What is at stake if things don’t change? If this doesn’t work, then the manager has to be prepared to take action. The team member will need to be reassigned if that is a solution or dismissed.

This is a difficult time for the whole team and ideally the manager should talk to the team about it to reach a consensus. A consideration during this time is that the manager might need to take action if they feel that the team want to carry the underperforming member. It would be highly unusual for a team to assume responsibility for a decision to remove someone from that team, or it might just be that the view is that the underperformance is temporary and support is needed for a period of time, rather than this being a permanent issue. Ultimately, it is for the manager to decide what needs to be done.

Establishing an HPT

HPTs can be introduced for several reasons, either to achieve a significant business purpose, or to make dramatic improvements to processes. Teams are usually cross-functional and they will have a good understanding of the end to end processes that need to be improved. There will normally be a process owner in the team who will coordinate activities and be the one who is the communications interface between the team and the organisation.

Key characteristics of a HPT are trust, respect and support. Members will need coaching in this. Initially as the team forms levels of trust will be low as trust has to do with loyalty, which in the early stages will be to the teams original function or manager.

In the early stages team members are likely to question or criticise the need for the team or the value of their time - they could be working on something far more important. They will often report back to their original manager who will feedback to the HPT manager. The manager needs to call out this negative feedback (without naming and shaming) so the team can discuss the issues raised. It won’t take long for the negative reports to stop if team members realise they might get found out – they won’t want to risk negative feelings from their new team members.

Another difficult thing for the team to learn is that there needs to be a level of trust and respect for each other’s abilities. It is natural that one team member will try to do most of the work and some other members may let them. This is not the way an HPT works. Everyone needs to do their part. If it becomes apparent to a member that they cannot meet their objectives for any reason, they need to let others know and ask for help. This will build up trust, rather than saying nothing and causing a task to fail.

Once that call for help is made the team members need to examine their own remaining tasks and work together to ensure that the help is not going to cause another part of the task to become jeopardised.

‘I’m alright Jack’

It is in the best interests of the team to help and support each other. One thing that usually happens in a non-HPT team is that one person will always help someone else in particular, but this is not echoed throughout the rest of the team. This can’t be allowed to happen in a HPT - all members should be involved in at least looking at how the help can be provided - who has the best skills and the most available time, regardless of who is asking.

If one team member is always struggling and getting a reputation to the point that other team members are less inclined to help, then the manager may need to consider whether that person is right for the team and start those honest conversations.

HPTs often have one or more team coaches, who are responsible for teaching team behaviours and ensure guidance and training is available when needed. We will talk about that in the next article on High Performing Teams.

By Jeanette Hibbert

In her second part in her series on high performing teams (HPTS) Jeanette Hibbert looks at what really makes a team.