Creating Powerful Teams

TeamworkTrue teamwork promotes individual and collective performance. Powerful teams value listening and communicating, sharing work responsibilities, provide support and can even make work more social and enjoyable. Team members are supportive of one another and recognise the interests and achievements of each other. I would go one step further and say that powerful teams actively contribute to the success of each other. When they are working the way they should, they are incredibly effective in achieving high performance results.

From Individuals to a Powerful Team

The essence of a team is joint commitment to a shared vision with shared values. Without these elements, teams are just collections of individuals working together but separately. An average team’s performance is a function of what its members do as individuals. Such teams are prevalent in large organisations where individual accountability is most important. They may come together to share information, perspectives and to make decisions, but the focus is always on the individual’s performance.

Teams evolve over time and have a pattern of development. During the forming stage, teams attempt to define their tasks and decide how to accomplish them. They sort out how the members will relate to each other. During the storming stage, members establish a pecking order within the group. Then in the norming stage, members accept the ground rules and norms by which the members will cooperate. In the performing stage, the group has settled relationships and validated expectations and can turn to work for which they are mutually responsible. At this stage the team is capable of more work together that the sum of the individual efforts would have produced.

Powerful teams differ from average teams because they require both individual and mutual accountability. While they also rely on sharing information, perspectives, and joint decisions, teams produce results through the joint contributions of its members. They are committed to shared objectives, as well as individual objectives, and they share the same vision. Teams develop direction and momentum as they work together to achieve shared objectives. Thus they commit together to work together towards the same ends, even though each member may participate in different ways.

Working together towards shared objectives can create social ties and enjoyment. This is also an important factor that contributes to high achievement.

Management should not leave teams alone. Teams left on their own can be confused. Most successful teams shape their purpose in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path by senior management. This helps teams get started by broadly framing the organisation’s performance expectations in alignment with the organization’s mission and vision. Management is responsible for clarifying the team’s challenges. It should let the team develop a shared commitment to vision, set specific objectives, and determine its timing and work approach.

Principles of a Powerful Team

1. A meaningful shared vision that the team has shaped themselves

The best teams spend a significant amount of time and effort exploring, shaping and agreeing on a mutually defined and shared vision. This activity continues throughout the life of the team. Research on failed teams shows that they rarely develop a common purpose.

2. Performance objectives and measurements that flow from the vision

The best teams also take their shared vision and translate it into specific performance objectives and measurements for the full team. These objectives relate to the vision and build on each another, moving the team forward towards achievement and creating powerfully motivating steps to success. The achievement of objectives along the way builds momentum, fosters trust among members and helps build continued commitment.

Specific Key Performance Indicators may be such things as bringing a product to market in record time, a 50% decrease in customer complaints, or achieving a zero-defect rate while cutting costs by 40%. Transforming broad directives into specific objectives provide first steps for forming the identity and purpose of the team. As the team progresses with small wins, they reaffirm their shared commitment.

The combination of vision and specific objectives is essential to increased performance. Each depends on the other. Clarity of objectives helps keep a team on track, focused and accountable. The broader, overlying aspirations of a team’s purpose can provide meaning and emotional energy.

When people are working together towards shared objectives, trust and commitment follow. Members hold themselves responsible both as individuals and as a team for the team’s performance. This sense of mutual accountability produces alignment towards achieving a common objective. All members share in the rewards. People who participate in high performing teams find the experience energising and motivating in ways that their usual jobs could never match.

On the other hand, groups that are established as a “team” but that do not have a clear common vision rarely become effective teams. Only when appropriate performance objectives are set does the process of discussing the objectives and the approaches to them give team members a clear choice: they can disagree with a goal and opt out, or they can pitch in and become accountable with and to their teammates.

3. A blend of complementary abilities

All members of your team should have the skills necessary to perform their jobs. When there are skills gaps, the whole team suffers. When people have the right mix of skills, the team thrives.

In addition to finding the right size, teams must develop the right mix of skills, that is, each of the complementary skills necessary to do the team’s job. As obvious as it sounds, it is a common falling in potential teams. Skill requirements fall into three fairly self-evident categories:

Technical or functional expertise – Product-development teams that include only marketing people or engineers are less likely to succeed than those with the complementary skills of both. Similarly, medical practices are seldom run by clinicians alone. A mix of technical skills is often desirable if not essential.

Problem-solving and decision-making skills – Teams must be able to identify the problems and opportunities they face, evaluate the options they have for moving forward, and then make necessary trade-offs and decisions about how to proceed. Most teams need some members with these skills to begin with, although many will develop them best on the job.

Interpersonal skills – Shared vision and objectives cannot arise without effective communication and constructive conflict, which in turn depend on interpersonal skills. These include risk taking, helpful criticism, objectivity, active listening, giving the benefit of the doubt, and recognizing the interests and achievements of others.

Obviously, a team cannot get started without some minimum complement of skills, especially technical and functional ones. Still, think about how often you’ve been part of a team whose members were chosen primarily on the basis of personal compatibility or formal position in the organization, and in which the skill mix of its members wasn’t given much thought.

4. A strong commitment to how the work is done

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans” – Peter F. Drucker

Studies have shown that commitment to a team may translate into a willingness to help team members and improved team performance. Low levels of commitment to both the organisation and the team have been linked to absenteeism, turnover and intention to quit.

Every member of every team has a certain degree of commitment to the team effort. Whether you work in government, health care, or in another business, you have probably seen wide variations in the level of commitment that people show at work. Some people come to work every day and put forth a very conscientious effort. They are enthusiastic. They have a positive attitude about what they are doing. They constantly try to improve what they are doing. They help others. They do not wait to be told to do something that needs to be done.

Committed teammates can be relied upon to do what they say they will do. You can count on them.  If you tell a teammate that you will finish something by a certain date, you have made a commitment.

Commitment might manifest itself as team members’ willingness to do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the team succeeds in its work. Contributing to the larger team’s accomplishments becomes every person’s primary focus; as a result, team members often stop saying “it’s not my job,” or “it was my turn last week,” when difficult work must be done.

Commitment can also be characterised by a belief among team members that they are a part of something special and that they are sharing something that is very important with other people. As such, commitment can evoke strong emotions among those involved, as well as an unusual sense of connectedness among individuals from different agencies and disciplines.

5. Mutual accountability

Though it may not seem like anything special, mutual accountability can lead to dramatic results. It enables a team to achieve performance levels that are far greater than the individual bests of the team’s members. To achieve these benefits, team members must do more than just listen, respond constructively, and provide support to one another. In addition to sharing these team-building values, they must share an essential discipline.

The challenge for senior management is how to build high performing teams without falling into the trap of appearing to promote teams for their own sake. There should be relentless focus on performance and results. Paying constant attention to specific teams and their progress on specific performance objectives is the key.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Andrew Carnegie:

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.  The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organisational objectives.  It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating powerful teams. Drop me an email at m@rkconway.co.uk or leave a comment below.

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 2

Brand New, Brand You - Self-discoveryIn the second part of the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the first step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You, namely Self-discovery.

START – Self-discovery

A personal brand is much more than a job title or how you look. This first step in evaluating Brand You is a holistic look at your goals, passions and values and how those figure into, and enhance, what you offer an employer, customer or indeed anyone you interact with. Very often, it’s the individuals who truly know what makes them interesting, compelling, and differentiated who stand out from the crowd. These people capitalise on their differences. Of course, a personal brand is only as good as the reputation you are able to build around its unique promise of value, and what you ultimately deliver. Consequently, authenticity and honesty become the most important building blocks for your personal brand.

First, you need to  start by evaluating yourself and what your current brand is, and compare it to what you’d like it to be. Then identify qualities that make you unique and how they might be valued by an employer. Examining who or what you don’t want your personal brand to be like can reveal what you do want. Just flip these negative qualities around to find the positive.

Self-discovery Questionnaire

Self-discovery is all about asking yourself some soul-searching questions. Be honest with yourself and try to view Brand You from other people’s perspectives.

Take yourself somewhere quiet and write down your answers to the following questions. Take some time to answer them thoroughly. You can download the Brand You Workbook if you prefer to type these up. The action plan has a section per question and also a section for any actions and milestones that need to be delivered to work on any improvements to these areas of your life. At  the end of the action plan is a section for your Brand You Vision Statement. Don’t worry about this for now. We’ll get to that part later. You will see that each question builds upon the last and hopefully as you work through the questions, you’ll start to build up a picture of the current Brand You and hopefully some thoughts as to where you’d like to develop yourself into the Brand New, Brand You. So, let’s get started:

What are your core personal values? Try to keep them to 5 values central to who you really are. I’ve listed some you may want to use in the word cloud below and also in the workbook, but the lists are not exhaustive; feel free to add your own. I found the best way to do this exercise, was to start with a larger list of say 15-20 values, and then work down to a short-list of 5. If you can, try to prioritise the final 5.

Example values for START

What parts of your business life are you passionate about? Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions: Do I like doing it? Am I good at it? Does the world need it?

“If you have a passion that you’re good at but the world doesn’t need it, you’ve got a useless passion,” says Covey. “If you’re focusing on what the world needs and sell out your passion, you sell out what is uniquely you. But if you can make a living doing something that you’re really good at and like-what a combination!”

What have I done / am I doing that I am most proud of? Don’t limit your answers to this question just to your business life. Try and come up with at least 5 things from across your personal and business life. Are there any similarities or themes? Do they link in any way to what you are passionate about? (They don’t have to!) Are there any of your personal values involved in making these activities such a success? Are they recent successes or from a few years ago?

What qualities or characteristics make you distinctive from your competitors or your colleagues? Whether it’s your unique style of leadership, the way you present to an audience or the personal energy you bring to a room when you enter, each of us have distinctive qualities that make us stand out. What are yours?

What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? What do you get compliments about most frequently; your perseverance, the quality of your business cases, your ability to mediate difficult conversations, your telephone manner with customers? What would you like it to be?

What benefits does ‘Brand You’ deliver? If you were a product, and indeed you are the product of Brand You, and had to pull a marketing brief together, what would you talk about as the benefits you bring? You’ve already worked up your Brand Values, so that should form part of your benefits story, you’ve already established what you’re passionate about and what makes you distinctive; and you’ve also established your greatest and clearest strength. Pulling all of these together should start to give you a compelling case as to why somebody would buy Brand You as opposed to Brand Them.

What do I want to be famous for? Ok, I’m not talking about going on a reality TV show, or getting 15 minutes of fame for rescuing a cat from a tree. I’m talking about the future of Brand You. What do you want to be known for?

‘He’s the best Project Manager I’ve ever met – you need him on this programme. He won’t be cheap though, he’s really in demand!’

‘She’s amazing! I saw her talking about Leadership at a conference last year. She’s so passionate about organisational change. We could do with her advice on the changes we want to make to our business’

You get the idea! How do you want to be known and talked about in 5 years time?

How am I measuring myself? Lastly, and arguably the one that always gets left behind with any brand launch, is a baseline measurement. How is your brand currently perceived? If you’re going to improve your personal brand, you need to understand where you’re starting from. What do people think of Brand You today?

There are a number of metrics / methods to use to gauge the success of your personal brand and that of the Brand New, Brand You.

The simplest way to test the effectiveness of any brand is to do market research. The same is true here. Ask for structured feedback – talk to your peers, managers, colleagues and customers and gauge their perception of Brand You. This could take the form of a 360 degree questionnaire, a face to face meeting with a focus on strengths and areas that could be improved or a combination of the two. You may wish to focus some questions to test out people’s perceptions to the answers you’ve given to some of the previous questions around Brand You benefits and what differentiates you from the rest.

Brand You Vision Statement

Now, you’ve had chance to work through the answers to these questions, it is useful to create a statement that encapsulates everything you want your brand to be. This will be your Brand New, Brand You Vision.

A strong vision statement should include:

  1. Your ambition for Brand You, describing the ideal future
  2. Encompass some of your core values
  3. Your differentiators and passions

I’ve posted some examples below, just to help you get your creative juices flowing:

‘I will provide the best technical support and customer service to our clients, helping improve their business and lives, striving to solve problems with a positive attitude that spreads to my co-workers’

‘I will be leading a small team of application developers to build market leading mobile tools for children with learning difficulties to make their lives easier and that of their families. That will fulfil my desire to make a difference to people’s lives, provide enough money for myself and my family to enjoy life and hopefully inspire others to take a risk and do something worthwhile.’

‘I am now running the restaurant I’ve worked in for 5 years. Through sheer determination, hard work, and my impeccable skills in dealing with customers of all kinds, I have a great reputation within the industry. I have also earned the respect of my staff, my superiors, and my customers alike.’

‘I have just published my fifth book on leadership and people management. I am now in the envious position of being able to leave my career  and share my time equally doing the things I love – spending time with family and friends, writing, walking, photography and being surrounded by nature’

That concludes the first step in START. Good luck with your Self-Discovery – I’d love to know how you get on!

In the next post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the second step in the START process, Toolkit Development.

If you missed the introductory post of The Brand New, Brand You please click here.

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