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Build High Performance Teams

Employee engagement and team building

Perhaps the most challenging prospect for every executive team is that of delivering on their approved strategy – year after year after year. While a tiny percentage are able to sustain the momentum, the majority fail to achieve their strategy for even a single year.

In their highly acclained publication "The Strategy Focused Organization" Kaplan and Norton (who pionered the concept of the Balanced Scorecard) state that:

"The emphasis companies place on strategy and vision creates a mistaken belief that
the right strategy is all that is needed to succeed…

…With failure rates reported in the 70 percent to 90 percent range, we can appreciate
why sophisticated investors have come to realize that execution is more important
than good vision.”

In their Harvard Business Review article, “Turning Strategy into Great Performance” (August 2005) Mankins and Steele show that:

"The average team achieves only 63% of the objectives of their strategic plans."

And in arguably the most extensive research on the subject ever undertaken, the Gallup Organisation (Buckingham and Coffman: "First Break All the Rules" – 1999) highlight that the greatest leaders in the world focus on employee engagement.

It is no surprise that out of all the research the common theme is that winning organisations in the 21st Century understand that the most important asset they possess is human capital. Our world has turned. The days of tariff protection, long-serving and loyal employees in organisations that provide security of employment, negligible competition and relatively secure prospects are gone for good.

Today, change and uncertainty have become the norm; intense competition and the demand for continuous improvement are never-ending.

Consider the international sporting arena. No longer is it sufficient to excel in one aspect of the game. No longer is it about having one or two stars in our side. On the sports field we have come to understand that the key to success is to be excellent at everything. No, when you think about it, even that is not quite good enough. For excellence is exactly what all our competitors aspire to as well. Excellence in itself will not do. We have to be best at everything: best at administration; best at player selection; best at skills, fitness, and teamwork; best at the tactics and strategy of the game itself; and, of course, best at the implementation thereof.

So too in the workplace. We have learned that our success is critically dependent on:
● outstanding management processes
● the attraction and retention of extraordinary staff
● building great teams
● developing and maintaining outstanding competence and morale
● as well as consistently delivering on a dynamic strategy.

Great leaders of this era realize that, in order just to stay in the game, their business has to excel in operating efficiency, technology utilisation, product quality, and customer satisfaction. But in order to sustain success they require far more than that – they have to attract and retain great talent, and harness the imagination and energy of every person on the team, every minute of every day.

Occassionally we get lucky – and our business stumbles along – in spite of poor leadership and poor managment of our people. But the reality is that they are woefully under-performing. We achieve more by chance or "fluke" than by design.

So what is the secret? How do we unlock the full capability of all our employees? What are the keys to "Performance on Purpose"?

The answer is presented in the graphic below: the secret is in setting every employee – and every team – up for success.

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The keys that unlock “Performance on purpose”

Team Buiding

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Why team-building efforts fail in many organisations

In recent times the concept of "Team Building" has become the vogue in many organisations, with much emphasis on “getaways” and “team-building games” for pockets of personnel within the organisation.

Conceptually the “Management Team” within most organisations realized that significant money and time should be spent on this pursuit of team-building; that it could prove to be key to the success of their organisation.

The rationale is seemingly indisputable: if they could somehow get people to bond and pull together, as a team, rather than each individual going off at a tangent and “doing their own thing”, the overall performance of the organisation had to improve. That being said, it follows that the more they could implement this principle throughout the organisation (by building more and more teams), the more favourably it would impact the results of the business.

The upshot is that for many organisations “Team Building” became the number 1 priority – and teams emerged everywhere. Teams were the new-found panacea: if you were not in the business of building teams you would soon be “not in business”.

In the short term the returns looked promising, as enthusiasm for teams swelled and performance indicators showed favourable trends. All kinds of teams emerged: self-directed-work-teams, mission-critical-teams, cross-functional-teams, and many more.

However, for many organisations the medium to long-term results have been somewhat disappointing: managers have become drained from supporting and driving the processes; individuals have become fed up with attending yet another boring meeting – as part of yet another team; team-driving processes such as recognition and suggestion schemes have lost their allure; and in many instances the actual processes have been abandoned or “parked” as yet another failed intervention.

These failures can usually be traced to one or more of the following 5 failures of realization on the part of management:

   1. Failure to realize that High Performance Teams is but one cog within a complex system

Many leaders fail to realize that building high performing teams can never be the cure for all ills. It is but one of the cogs in a machine.

The objective of managers and leaders in every business should be to build a High Performance Organisation – and building High Performance Teams should be only one of at least a dozen key principles and processes that will deliver that end result.

   2. Failure to realize that high performing teams need constant tuning, maintenance and lubrication

All too often management expect that teams should be fully autonomous units, “self-directed” and self-sustaining. But the reality is: that view entirely misses the point. One only has to cast an eye at the sporting world – at our batsmen, cricketers, rugby players, footballers and others who participate in teams, to realize that when the coaches and the managers go “AWOL”, so too do the team results.

The reality is that managers need to find the fine balance between:
   • On the one hand – setting direction for the team, defining and agreeing the objectives,
      coaching, nurturing and mentoring;
      and…
   • On the other hand – giving space, and enabling the team to deliver, yet being in the
      wings to applaud, give recognition, and provide support when called for.

Just like any other asset in the organisation, teams cannot just be commissioned and left to their own devices – they too need regular attention on the part of management.

   3. Failure to realize that “building high performance teams” and “team building” are not synonymous

For many managers the concept of building teams conjures up images of their employees scaling rock-climbing walls, climbing through ropes, and crossing make-shift bridges, all in the pursuit of becoming “high performing teams”. Over recent years many organizations have envisioned team building this way. But the reality is that while such team building activities in isolation are great fun and a great bonding event at the “getaway”, they more often than not fail to bring about meaningful and lasting change once the group returns to the workplace at the end of it all.

This is not implying that such “team building activities” do not have an important place – they have great value in forging relationships, building confidence, and enabling bonding to take place. But these activities are events that take place perhaps only once or twice a year, and need to be part of the far larger process of actually building the teams in the workplace in the first place, and then maintaining them, day in and day out.

   4. Failure to realize that it is not appropriate to try to turn every group into a team, let alone a high performance team

Simply because a group of people work together does not necessarily mean that they should be moulded into a team, any more than a group of people who stand at the same bus-stop together, or ride the same bus every day should be moulded into a team.

There is nothing wrong with a work group – and as a leader you could be committing a grave mistake be trying to force them into a “team”.

There are essential elements that categorize the appropriateness of forming teams, and when they are not present, it simply is neither appropriate nor possible to form a team.

   5. Failure to give high performance teams the opportunity to perform without interference

One of the greatest frustrations for team members and team leaders is being second-guessed and micro-managed by their manager.

By undermining them through second-guessing and micro-managing you show not only your lack of trust in them, but also your weaknesses as a leader.

Delegating total responsibility is one of the most difficult things a leader has to do – especially when so much can depend on it. This is even more so when the results of the work, or the work itself, are highly visible. But delegating responsibility means that you have allocated authority to them to get it done.

Conversely, managers with a natural tendency to second-guess and / or micro- manage should:
       • build teams that they trust
       • agree on the level of responsibility and decision making authority assigned to them
       • agree dates & times when the team will give feedback to you
       • hold the team accountable for the results
       • give the team space to get on with it.

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POP Training & Consulting’s holistic approach to building a high performance organisation.

Building high performance teams is not a quick fix. It is not something you can achieve by sending a few supervisors / team leaders on a 1 or 2 day training programme – you will largely be wasting valuable time and money. It needs the commitment and buy in from the entire management team. It is only possible and will only pay dividends when you take the holistic approach of building a High Performance Organisation.

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The 12 key processes involved in building a High Performance Organisation

1. Realize that it will be the most important job of your management team.
2. Commit to building a culture of belonging and inclusivity.
3. Put processes in place to affirmatively create a talented, diverse workforce.
4. Develop a plan to sensitize and involve the organisation.
5. As a management team, you can only be successful with this process if you are successful in earning respect, and building and maintaining trust.

  Therefore, you must commit to 3 key issues:
      i. Focus on valuing people’s differences and their opinions.
     ii. Focus on getting rid of all “kick ass” / blaming attitudes.
     iii. Focus on constructively channelling conflict.

6. Build a culture of “win-win” leadership – this will mean relinquishing power in exchange for collaboration and teamwork.
7. Build a culture of providing clear purpose & direction.
8. Build a culture or ensuring goal alignment. It is critical that everyone’s efforts are focused and aligned on the organisation’s goals and objectives.
9. Build a culture of 3-way communication – up, down and sideways. Employee satisfaction surveys consistently indicate that poor workplace communication is a major source of employee dissatisfaction. The consequences of this are far greater than simply "low employee morale" – it affects just about every one of your performance indicators.
10. Build a culture of teamwork – at all levels, as well as across all levels.
11. Build a culture of internal service excellence, and inter-departmental co-operation.
12. Build a culture of recognition and praise. Don’t ‘file away good or bad performance’ so you can use it when you do the performance review.

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