Building High-Performance Teams
What is the secret of success for thriving organizations?
From our experience working with a wide variety of organizations, from entrepreneurial start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, the answer is a focus on building consistently high-performing teamwork.
High-performance teamwork does not occur by accident. It is the result of conscious, consistent follow-up and follow-through.
Effective leaders know how to invite maximum engagement and how to create powerful mindsets to get team members fully aligned and focused on creating excellence in all they do.
The key is moving everyone from a sense of “What can I get?” to “What can I give?”
How can we help?
What is a whole-hearted coaching process for high-performing teams?
Whole-hearted coaching ensures that all the above critical factors are being attended to.
At EQIQ we do this by focusing on the Three C’s: Communication, Collaboration and Conflict.
Communication, in order to be effective, needs to be consistent, inter-active, and always in service to furthering the trusting, appreciative human relationships that are necessary to make teamwork hum.
Collaboration, in order to be strategic and in service to the mission and vision of an enterprise, requires effective communication. Collaboration is built by becoming familiar with the concerns and constraints, as well as the unique skills, life experiences and relationship styles of each team member. Fully appreciating and engaging this diversity, in service to a clear core purpose, is a key component of high-performing teams. We think it yields more than merely creating structured, flowcharts of “deliverables.”
Conflict is the third “C”. Every team will experience conflict at some time; that is part of being human. The good news is that “conflict” can be healthy and useful: the key is how that conflict is handled and managed. If facilitated effectively, conflict can clear out the barriers to honest communication which are built on fear, false assumptions, and a lack of transparency. This allows collaboration to be renewed, and often brings forth creative and innovative thinking. Surprising and welcome solutions can follow.
Learn to use conflict effectively to build stronger teamwork
Critical human systems factors for high-performance teamwork
Emotional intelligence drivers that result in high performance teams are called critical human system factors. These include:
- Sense of Faith/Belief
- Psychological Safety
TRUST: If there are low levels of trust between team members and/or their leader, teamwork will suffer. One way to explore your trust in your leader or your team members is to ask the following questions:
- Do I trust my leader’s/team member’s competency? Do they know what they are doing and how to do it?
- Do I trust their integrity? Will they follow through and do what they say?
- Do I trust their commitment? Will they go the extra mile for the mission for the team?
- Do I trust their motivation? Are they out for the greater good of our team/organization/the world, or are they actions and behaviors only ego driven?
When you can engage all four levels of trust, you have a firm foundation for moving forward with powerful teamwork.
SENSE OF FAITH/BELIEF: When part of a team within an organization, we are speaking about faith/belief in the product and/or services of the organization, and also in the leadership and in fellow team members.
PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY: This means feeling safe to make a mistake, to offer a half-baked idea as a seed to explore, and to speak up without risk of being judged, put down, belittled, or in any other way attacked. It takes particular acts of courage, including the Courage to Confront, the Courage to be Confronted and the Courage to Learn and Grow, in order to break the often unconscious indoctrination that groups of humans can be subject to, in which showing up as “real” can lead to rejection and loss.
When these three critical human system factors are successfully addressed, the result is juicy team engagement, the kind where heart, head and hands come together. If there appears to be a lack of engagement - your own or that of team members - then it is best to circle back around to explore what is missing or hidden in the realms of Trust, Sense of Faith/Belief and Psychological Safety.
What are real-life examples of building high-performance teams?
Example A: Focusing on Clear Sense of Purpose and Using Healthy Conflict
EQIQ worked with the founder of a company that worked with a major arm of the US government. The founder had a PHD and was brilliant. The organization only hired other top-in-their-field, brilliant individuals. However, teamwork was sluggish and team meetings ran hours over with little to show.
The issue at hand here wasn’t so much a lack of psychological safety as it was trust. Individuals were willing, almost to eager, to confront each other. The confrontations were very ego-driven, rather than for the greater good.
People trusted each other's integrity, competency and commitment; the issue was their lack of trust in the motivation behind confrontations. Team members felt others were out for their own egos, simply to prove they were right instead of being interested in the greater good of the organization.
As consultants, we kept coming back to this organization’s ‘core Why.’
In order to build powerful consensus in teams, we helped people to clearly focus on the core purpose, “the core Why” of their organization.This set it up so that there was due consideration of input, ideas and perspectives against the criteria of what was right for the greater good, versus an individual’s “being right.”
THE RESULT: Meeting times were cut half, and productivity and output was doubled.
EXAMPLE B: Re-instilling a Sense of Faith/Belief in the organization and its senior leaders
EQIQ worked with a company in the food and services sector. This organization did well over a billion dollars in annual sales a year. However there was a major issue: one of the largest departments was experiencing excessive turnover.
They were losing money with high costs for hiring, training, then rehiring and retraining. When the CEO called us with this problem, we went to work to identify the root cause. We quickly found that the employees of that department did not have faith or belief in their senior leader. Team members felt this individual, the senior leader of this department, was only out to prove he was right in every situation, and people felt they could neither please him nor offer valuable feedback or perspective. While they had faith and belief in the product, they did not have faith and belief in the leader.
This senior leader was blown away by this feedback, because no one had had the courage to speak to him, and those who had tried had felt shut down. This department head’s intent was quite the opposite, which was to not only be an effective leader but also someone who could build up the next generation of leaders.
So we helped him by asking him to:
- Slow down and listen interactively, offering follow-up questions to make sure his team felt both heard and understood by him
- Suspend his need to jump in, correct and force his point of view
- Always speak last, allowing him to weave together and build on the ideas of others
We told him that in the first 9-12 months he would have to do something paradoxical, which was to invite people to hurt his feelings and then to thank them for doing that!
On repeat of an engagement survey, there was evidence of a dramatic increase in morale and positive engagement, with less employee turnover.
Example C: Ensuring Psychological Safety and Trust
EQIQ worked with the CEO of a hundred million dollar business that he had launched, in an attic, just 15 years before. The company now had hundreds of employees, but there was a problem with productivity and there was conflict within teams. What we found was a major lack of psychological safety, which also led to issues around lack of trust.
These things begin innocently enough. No one in the company could match the high level of expertise around the product line that the founder/CEO had. In addition, he was a perfectionist who tended to make note of everything that was not working to his specification. He also found it very difficult to hand out praise. So when he talked to employees, it was generally to point out mistakes. As a result, his senior team was fear-driven, and the teams they led reflected this. When the CEO came out to speak to employees, instead of a feeling of anticipation and excitement, they felt dread.
We discovered an additional surprising detail: the CEO had trouble transitioning from capital to lower text on his keyboard, so when he wrote messages all his words were in capital letters. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this left employees feeling their CEO was always shouting at them.
This model of behavior was reflected by senior leaders. A significant percentage of supervisors behaved or performed either by a) actively intimidating or b) feeling intimidated themselves and being unwilling to speak up and hold employees accountable.
As a result, team members felt their competency was not trusted, and since they were always being checked up on, they also felt their integrity was not being trusted.
The paradox was the CEO was very caring! The company had generous benefits, the salary was high and there was a genuine desire to care for the employees. So this leader, who had brought us in, could honestly not understand why there was fear, a sense of intimidation, and overall low supervisor performance.
In our work with the CEO and senior leadership, we were able to help address the fundamental psychological safety and trust issues within the company, using whole-hearted coaching, courageous conversations, power questions, interactive listening and other favorite tools in our toolkit.
THE RESULT: after addressing these key human system critical factors, company performance increased, the organization grew by another 20 million dollars in a nine-month period without adding a single employee, while removing some toxic supervisors who were not willing to change.
How can I create consistent high-performance teamwork?
The stages of forming high-performance teams
The traditional stages of team development are forming, storming, norming, then performing. At EQIQ, we add a fifth which is called action-learning.
Many groups get stuck in the storming (excessive conflict) or the norming, but getting to the performing stage is just "good". It is only when you get to the active learning (aka, action learning) that a team can become truly great.
Management of high-performance teams
High performing teams actively manage themselves. It is more a matter of how to engage, guide and participate with the leadership of the high performance teams. So that they make the changes and help the team to move forward.
High performing teams do not need to be managed, instead they are led through vision, invitation, trust, and creative challenges from leadership.
Some of our favorite tools to help address the three C’s of Communication, Collaboration and Conflict
- Power questions
- Interactive listening
- Courageous conversations
- Breakout Groups for more efficient sharing, brainstorming and problem solving
- Making use of “Yes, And..” to build on ideas and get even greater engagement
High performance teams depend on a number of critical factors.
Based on our experience and all current research, here are some essential, proven building blocks:
Clarity of Purpose
- Ensure there is clarity of purpose which all team members understand and are consistently moving from.
- What is the ‘core Why’ behind your enterprise?
- What fundamental social need or human desire does your organization seek to fulfill?
If ALL team members understand this ‘core Why’, and ALL decisions are based off of this, it will serve as the foundation of meaningful teamwork.
Clear Sense of Direction
2. Ensure there is a clear sense of direction for the organization as a whole, a direction that each team is also aligned with as it provides for a particular area of responsibility in service to the “core Why.”
- What is my team in service to?
- What are the expected deliverables?
- Who on my team is taking lead for each deliverable?
3. Ensure clear communication.
- Ask clear questions
- Remember that excellent communication goes both ways
- Use curiosity and follow-up questions in order to discover “what you don’t know you don’t know”, and to ensure clear understanding.
- Ensure process integrity.
- Has a consistent process been developed and is it honored?
- Does this process spell out how to move with disagreement/conflict and also when there is a diversity of perspectives?
- Does this process have a clear agreement for how, and by whom, final decisions get made?
Positive, consistent leadership
- Ensure positive, consistent leadership in terms of coaching and role modeling.
If the leadership of an organization is not modeling the very skills asked for, it will be impossible for teams to consistently perform at peak level. Talented individuals might step up to the plate, but can get burned out if inspired collaboration, shared responsibility and due acclaim are missing.
6. Ensure the use of emotional intelligence, specifically of courage.
At EQIQ, we often speak about the distinct acts of courage outlined by our founder, Dusty Staub. These include the Courage to Dream of better ways to work together as a team, while also holding the Courage to See Current Reality: what is working, not working, missing or confusing about how my team works?
Each team member is invited to muster the Courage to Learn and Grow, to stay open to new perspectives and ideas. This also calls for the Courage to Let Go, to step into the ambiguity of the unknown instead of grasping the “way it’s always done.” Being willing to explore gray areas is where true innovation can happen. This includes the willingness to let go of the need to “be right”, which is a barrier to consistent teamwork and creative solutions.
"Comfortable" and "accustomed" may feel safe, but in the long run can leave a team, and its parent organization, out of sync with what is needed. Exploring possibilities is not the same as saying that progress always calls for “more” and “bigger”; rather, it is to make course corrections or start a fresh page as needed, with an eye to sustainability. Invite team members to build a legacy they can be proud of and that feels worth the time, talent and effort they are offering. Individuals will often stay in a job that pays less than elsewhere because they believe in the work and feel their participation is valued.
To learn, build and grow on these acts of courage, EQIQ uses whole-hearted leadership coaching.