10 Steps to Building and Leading High Performance Teams

One of the key skills referenced in the Execunet 2011 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report is the Ability to build and lead high performance teams.  Since this is a one of the top five areas in both hardest to find qualities and most sought after, we wanted to share a high level look at key factors that drive team success.

I have worked with a range of teams.  I have seen those that are far less effective when working together, where individuals will not share their input and insight with others for fear of being criticized or disregarded.  These teams demoralize most of the participants and drain productivity from the organization.  I have also worked with teams where the team leader gave attention to team process, dynamics and results in the appropriate balance.  These teams delivered results far beyond expected, team members were engaged and worked together to overcome challenges.  The difference is a combination of the team leader and the team process. Both are important for team success.

We draw extensively from the Drexeler Sibbet model and augment it with our own thinking, tools, and other sources.  The following bullets are key elements in building high performance teams from scratch.  If you have a team that is not performing well, you may want to use these steps as a diagnostic to identify the root issue.  We offer a wide range of team development solutions based in part on the following team development model.

  1. Establish purpose FIRST – determine why we are working together – since many people are motivated by making an impact consider stating the purpose in a way that they will understand and be proud to tell others about.
  2. Charter the team and establish goals and vision – clarify what success looks like in the form of specific goals with timeframes and resources requirements.  Ensure the appropriate level of money and staffing is identified early and available.
  3. Build trust among members – the amount of time and money wasted covering our backs and protecting ourselves can be as much as 50% when working with people we do not trust.  Unless you want to increase your resource requirements by 50% and extend your timeline – investment in trust starts to look like a good idea.
  4. Act with grace – own our mistakes and be kind to others – we only succeed if we can work together.  We work in a world that is increasingly complicated and things will fall through the cracks.  It is unavoidable so learn to accept this in yourself and others and minimize the mistakes while being kind to yourself and others.  This does not mean tolerate non-performers, it just means we make mistakes, emails go to spam, calls get dropped, and family members get sick.
  5. Establish processes, rules of engagement and decision responsibility and processes – knowing how decisions are made is critical to progress and minimizing confusion and hard feelings.  Be clear early who is responsible for which actions and decisions as well as how do we treat one another.
  6. Plan the work – establish a work plan in sufficient detail to know what resources are required and when each task should be complete including interdependencies.  Manage to the plan with the assumption that it will need to change based on changes in conditions in the environment.  Something will go wrong; part of the secret sauce is how the team responds to the normal ebbs and flows of business. When in question, act with grace.
  7. Do the work – follow the plan and accomplish the work on time, with the quality expected, using the resources expected.  When deviations happen, be proactive and discuss with the team to allow adjustments as quickly as possible.
  8. Measure progress and success – measures should have been established early in the process.  Collect the data, analyze, and adjust.  Remember this is where we learn what went wrong and get to learn and correct.
  9. Recognize others – celebrate success when it happens.  Life is way too short to skip over the small wins.  Make a point of recognizing the people around you when they do something well.
  10. Learn and improve – at appropriate steps in the process stop and reflect on what you accomplished and what you can learn, from success and challenges.

For most of us, these principles are not new and yet, as leaders, we often allow the culture of results drive us to skip over the very important steps in the process that ensure our teams will be successful.  By taking the time and focusing on building the team foundation, we improve our success rate.

Are you considering improving your ability to be an innovative leader?  If so, take this free on-line Innovative Leadership assessment to determine where you fall on the innovative leadership scale.  If you are looking for tools to help develop you ability to be an innovative leader, check out the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook.  Metcalf & Associates offers assessments, coaching and workshops to help you and your leadership team become more innovative.

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