New Year New Team – Four steps to building your high performing team

By Morag Barrett, Founder and CEO, SkyeTeam and CWCC Member


Another new year has rolled around (rather too quickly for my liking!) and my guess is that like many of us you have used this turning of the calender to create new years resolutions. Personal commitments focused on you and your success.

But what about your team?  This is the time to broaden your focus from your individual goals and to take a moment to stop and consider  your team goals. How are you going to build a high performing team and the success of all?

You’ve probably been involved in a team-building exercise at some point. Perhaps it was a weekend retreat, or an afternoon playing golf. Whether or not you thought it was a good use of your time, I am curious to know what happened when you all returned to the office. Did everyone go back to their usual behavior – working individually rather than collaboratively, talk about each other rather than to each other.

In my experience managers planning a team building activity do not spend much time thinking about “what will be different”.  A ‘day of fun’ is always a nice break from the day to day, but without a clear goal and purpose can be seen as frivoulous and do more harm than good.

To build a high performing team you need to ensure that the lessons learned  are relevent to your team AND that they are applied when everyone goes back to work.

At SkyeTeam we work extensively with teams who are looking to reach the next level of performance.  They recognize that focused team development is not a ‘one time event’, but a process that incorporates continuous improvement, developing new habits that become part of the team’s (and organization’s) culture – it is HOW you do business that matters.

In our work with teams across the globe we have identified three fundamental characteristics that differentiate average teams from high performing teams:

  1. High performing teams apply common sense. This isn’t rocket science, don’t over engineer it! If you ask your team what are the characteristics and behaviors evident on a high perofrming team my guess is they will easily come up with a long list.  (You can also ask about worst teams and things to avoid – again another long list).  There you have your recipe for high performance.
  • Which elements are you doing well and consistently?
  • Which need care and attention?
  • What are you and your team committed to doing next to move towards high performance?
  1. A high performing team has is an uncommon discipline. High performing teams go beyond the transactional, tactics and tasks and do something with the common sense knowledge that they have.  Richard Branson talks about spending an hour a week with his direct reports discussing what is working and what is not on the team dynamics and behaviors – NOT the transactional piece.In having an uncommon discipline high performing teams DO WHAT THEY SAY THEY ARE GOING TO DO.  Creating the common sense list is easy… following through and turning that into meaningful habits in your team is more challenging.
  • What behaviors does your team SAY they are commited to but demonstrate inconsistently?
  • When crisis hit, which rules get thrown out (even if they are damaging to the overall team?)
  • What are the non negotiables that the team need to commit to no matter what?

And finally, the third element is that High Performing Teams have learned how to talk to each other (even when the stakes are high!)

  1. Name the Elephants. High performing teams talk about the tough topics, the elephants in the room, gorillas in the corner, those sensitive issues that get in the way of success. Average teams espose “The Emperors New Clothes” approach, where all can see the problem but no one dares call it out.Candor doesn’t mean they always agree, high performing teams learn to ‘fight well’, they disagree (and can do so quite vociferously) but when a decision is made they are all behind it.  Dissent happens in private, its one voice to the rest of the organization.  And more importantly… even after a ‘stand down fight’ relationships are intact if not strengthened by the candor and debate.
  • What are the conversations that you team should be having but choose not to?
  • What issues are evident to all but ignored?
  • What baggage needs to be cleared so that the team can move forward together?
  • What are the three strategic priorities / goals that your team must deliver?
  • Is everyone clear and in agreement regarding their individual roles and responsibilities to achieve these?
  • What does the team need to stop doing in order to focus on delivering these?
  1. Be Clear on the Purpose and Goals of the Team.  Why does your team exist? How does it contribute to the overall success of the organization?  I have worked with executive level teams who when asked if they are clear and in agreement regarding the purpose and goals of the team will all say “Yes absolutely!”.  I love it when that happens, as I will then call their bluff and ask them to list the three strategic priorites the team must achieve in the next time period.  Invariably I will end up with a list of 9, 12, 15 or more items… not the three that a closely aligned team would deliver.

Four steps, twelve questions that will set your team up for success in 2014.  If you would like to learn more about SkyeTeam’s high performing team programs please call us.  And please share your high performing team stories and successes, we’d love to hear from you.

About Morag Barrett

Morag Barrett Headshot

Morag Barrett is founder and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR consulting and leadership development company.  She has authored Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships (March, 2014, Franklin Green). Morag’s experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing teams across Europe, America and Asia. SkyeTeam works with clients in a range of industries including: Healthcare, Telecoms, Mining, Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology.  Morag has made frequent media stops at The, T&D Magazine, American Management Association, and SHRM.

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