HR 10 July 2017

Building a high-performance team as the owner of a small company

Cropped shot of coworkers using sticky notes on a glass wall during a meeting
An open dialogue is essential for creating an environment where people learn from their mistakes and broaden their skills

Every business leader knows that teamwork is essential to success. Here, Matt Jenkins, head of consulting at organisational management consultancy Footdown, explains how small business owners can mould their workforce into a high-performance team that delivers results.

A team that “clicks” and works in sync equals higher productivity, more innovation and stronger engagement. As a result, impressive budgets are allocated every year to training workshops, team-building programmes and employee perks – all aimed at strengthening a team and aligning smart, competent people behind a common goal, vision and targets.

However, very few initiatives are actually successful – even though the employees in question are individually brilliant and creative, the team’s productivity is low because its members don’t focus on innovation and business outcomes, but on how to fight for personal ideas and gain. This leads to conflict, resentment and passive-aggressive attitudes.

So how can a business leader fix a dysfunctional team to develop a healthy, solid one?

First you need to understand that a team is not just a bunch of people working together. A high performance team is a group of people driven by common goals and beliefs. They collaborate, challenge, support and hold each other responsible to achieve exceptional results.

The five key elements that define a high-performance team are:

  • High levels of trust
  • Productive conflict
  • High commitment to common goals
  • Accountability
  • A focus on team results above and beyond personal goals or success

In most organisations, employees are committed and they deliver good results. However, very few teams manage conflict productively or hold each other accountable when working on projects.

As a result, the level of trust is not very high and people find it difficult to give feedback, be it positive or negative. An open dialogue is essential for creating a thriving environment where people can learn from their mistakes, take pride in their achievements and broaden their skills.

Make good use of available tech

Before building high performance teams business leaders must first surface and manage differences. Differing opinions can offer valuable insight regarding employees’ needs, pain points and purpose.

Only when you know where everyone is in their thinking will you be able to uncover that common motivation that drives everyone towards the desired results.

Thankfully, nowadays there are many solutions that cut out the guesswork and help business leaders to truly understand what drives, inspires and galvanises their employees.

Gone are the days when managers had to wait months before gaining access to reports analysing organisational performance and their team’s strengths and weaknesses. Now, all this information can be at their fingertips in just a matter of hours, analysing data from all offices, branches and teams no matter where they are located across the globe.

Appraise and assess

A team’s appraisal and review process is also very useful when dealing with dysfunctional teams. Most companies focus on individual appraisals overlooking the need to take an elevated view of how a team is performing.

When assessing the whole team as a complex ecosystem leaders can identify the reasons behind dysfunctions and areas that need improvement. They can also track progress over time and pinpoint what strategies were successful and what ideas didn’t work out.

Create a vision for all to embrace

Once you know where everyone stands, what areas need improving and the main strengths of the team, you should clearly define and communicate your vision regarding the team’s and company’s future.

Teams need specific targets and a clear destination. The leader has to be the change agent that adapts the intended strategy to operational changes, internal shifts and market conditions.

Get your team involved in creating the vision of where they are headed and what they want to accomplish. You will see much higher levels of engagement and commitment if employees feel their voices have been heard and they took part in setting their future targets.

Set up clear measures of success and a regular feedback gathering process to make sure you stay on track and are able to quickly adjust to new situations.

Talk about the hard things and empower your team to provide feedback, manage conflict in a productive manner and hold each other to account. In this way, any potential disagreements are brought to light and employees can tackle any issues directly while also building trust and increasing commitment to results.

Listen without reacting strongly or negatively to what is being said. High levels of innovation require team members to be unafraid of expressing unusual ideas and advocating experimental processes. Encourage this by publicly thanking those who take risks and think outside the box.

A high-performance team is the foundation of a high-performance organisation. They are difficult to build, expensive to maintain and demand consistent discipline.

Nevertheless, you must keep in mind that if a high-performance team requires a lot of work, a dysfunctional one can truly endanger the company’s growth and future development even more.

Matt Jenkins, head of consulting at organisational management consultancy Footdown

Five ways to handle difficult conversations in small teams

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