Becoming a Manager of A High-Performance Work Team
In recent years, employee teams have proven to be an effective means to increased productivity and profitability for more and more businesses. The purpose of this article is to help you shape any team into a high performing work system. The article focuses on helping you acquire the skills needed to manage any team at a level of high performance. It will help you define the role of the team leader and the roles of team members, and it will enable you to effectively communicate these responsibilities in order to create an environment of shared values and minimum conflict. By using this article, you will understand how best to apply the team concept to the workplace.
During the last decade, it became increasingly apparent that "no man is an island." Teamwork is an essential operational tool that is now more crucial to producing results than ever before. As organizations within the public and private sectors continue to restructure in favor of work teams, teams are being used more than ever as an effective and beneficial method of managing employees and doing business. This leads to more attention and resources being allocated to the development and leadership of teams.
As the focus tightens on teams, team-building activities and leadership processes are gaining momentum as vital management activities. Consequently, team leaders and managers must stay on top of the latest in team training and development to leverage this increase in opportunities and responsibilities.
The prevalence of teams has increased in recent years for a number of reasons, including:
The first definitive study of work teams was conducted in 1990 by the Netherlands Institute for the Working Environment in cooperation with the General Employers' Union. Some of the reported effects of implementing work teams were:
The study concluded that work teams improved the quality of the work environment and led to higher productivity (in a broad sense of the word). Obviously, a high-performance work team can be an invaluable asset to an organization as well as to the individuals involved.
There are many resources that focus on the team itself and how to improve its efficiency (including Building an Effective Team ), but the purpose of this discussion is to focus on the people behind the scenes the team leaders, managers, facilitators and coaches and provide them with a step-by-step program for improving their own performance in achieving team excellence.
I. The Team - Are You an Effective Leader?
Before we begin, take a few moments to complete
the following quiz to assess the current functioning of your work team, as it relates to
your performance as the leader. This will give you a framework by which to benchmark your
abilities as a team leader as you progress through this article.
If you answered "yes" to numbers 1, 2, 6, 7 and 12, and had more than seven "no" answers, congratulations! Your team is in sound shape, and you're doing a bang-up leadership job. If you had seven or less "no" answers, or answered "no" to any of questions 1, 2, 6, 7 or 12, your leadership abilities probably need a little work. However, don't despair; you're in good company. No matter what your current leadership abilities are, there's always room for improvement.
If your team needs improving, the improvements must begin with you, as the team leader. There are various steps you can take and exercises you can perform to become a stronger leader, and we will examine some of them in this article.
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II. Team Building and Leadership Building - The Whole Is No Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
"People cannot be managed. Inventories can be managed; People must be led." Ross Perot
In every team, each member has four distinct areas of responsibility, and it is your responsibility to make each member aware of them. They are:
How do you ensure that you're communicating these responsibilities to your team members? Leadership specialist and author Donald J. Bodwell recommends listing each of these roles on a sheet of flip chart paper, along with an explanation of each, and taping it on the wall of the team meeting room. This will help keep the elements in front of the team as they work toward meeting their objectives. Note: Each should receive its own page so that the text can be written large enough to be seen across the room.
Just as each team member has a well defined list of duties, the team leader (or manager, coach or facilitator) has four distinct areas of responsibility, similar and complementary to those set forth for his team players:
Within these areas of responsibility, the following are some of the specific duties of a high-performance team leader:
Leadership occurs any time someone attempts to influence the behavior of an individual or group, regardless of the reason. It may be for one's own goals, those of others, or for organizational goals. Degrees and styles of leadership within this basic framework differ tremendously.
The traditional "command and control" leadership that carried many organizations to high levels of performance during periods in the past when competition was not so great and things didn't change very fast has passed its time. The demands on the total organization are too great for a few people at the top to carry all the weight.
Enter work teams and the newest principal in the leadership arena: the team leader.
Exercise #1: Quick Team Check
You can use this assessment tool to see how well you are leading your team at any point in time. This Quick Team Check (QTC), as the name implies, is easy to administer and score. You should give every team member a copy of the QTC, and allow them to score their own assessment, as the total QTC score is simply a tally of their answers on the 10 items. Note: On the surface, your team will be evaluating its effectiveness, but there is a deeper meaning to this exercise. Your team's scores, to a large extent, will reveal how effective you are as a team leader. Be prepared to accept their evaluations and make changes as necessary.
Have each team member review the statement list (below) then, according to the following scale, indicate the extent to which they agree that it is true about your team right now. Have them place the number of their response in the space to the left of the statement.
5 - True
4 - Somewhat true
3 - True sometimes and false sometimes
2 - Somewhat false
1 - False
Total Score: ______
(Adapted with permission from Glenn M. Parker, 25 Instruments for Team Building, HRD Press, 1998.)
Interpreting the Results:
37-50 = High Performance
Whatever you're doing as a team leader is working and should be continued. The team dynamics are overwhelmingly positive. However, the enemies of high performing teams are complacency and stagnation. Therefore, spend some time with your team identifying the factors (e.g., leadership, training, support) that have produced your excellent results and plan to invest in these assets. Address the few weakness areas the survey reveals.
23-36 = Average Performance
The team is doing OK, but improvements are needed. As a team, identify the areas where your scores were low, analyze the causes of the situation, and develop a plan to address the issues. You, as team leader, should also analyze the specific results for each of the 10 areas on the QTC and formulate proactive measures you can take to bring your team's functioning up to the positive end of the performance continuum.
10-22 = Below-Average Performance
You and your team need to take a hard look at these results. Develop a plan that includes short-term actions to produce immediate results and provide incentive, as well as take steps to address the long-term issues dealing with the team's lack of effective team fundamentals.
The QTC is excellent fodder for stimulating ongoing discussions to improve your future performance. Here are some ideas for facilitating subsequent discussions:
Exercise #2: "Warp Speed"
The purpose of this exercise is to practice communication and problem solving as a team unit and to practice establishing team processes in a confidence building situation.
Your team (ideally eight to 20 people), a stopwatch and a tennis ball
Have the team stand in a circle facing one another. Explain that you will toss the tennis ball to one of the team members, and they are to continue throwing the ball one member at a time until each member has caught and passed the ball once. The last participant then tosses the ball back to the starting team member, thus completing the process. Instruct the team to note who threw the ball to them and whom they threw to. Also, make them aware that you will be timing the process. If the ball is dropped, just pick it up and continue the process. On your signal, the exercise begins. When they finish, announce how much time the process took (usually around 35 to 45 seconds).
Now, tell the team to repeat the process, but cut their time by half. Give them two minutes to discuss amongst themselves their approach to the problem: How will they complete all of the steps in the same sequence in half the time? Invariably, teams will improve the time to execute the process by about half, sometimes slightly better. However, they will have to have made some change in order to achieve the objective perhaps by moving closer together.
Repeat this process three or four times until the team achieves their lowest possible time. The fastest possible process (two to four seconds) involves having the team members sort themselves into the perfect order of flow; that is, a straight flow in one direction with the starting/ending team member swiping the ball across the outstretched hands of his fellow team members.
When you are finished, help the team members process the experience by asking them to explain what they learned from this exercise. Other questions include: "How many of you thought it wasn't possible to cut the speed in half the first time? After you achieved one success, did you think you could repeat the success a second time? What had to change in order for you to achieve success each time?"
Point out that the team managed to get from 40-plus seconds to just a few. Ask them, "Would you have been able to achieve the fastest performance right off the bat?" The answer is, probably not, but ask them what happened that allowed them to ultimately get to such a superior level of performance.
What can you learn and take away from this experience? This exercise allows you to teach team members how to build on previous successes an important lesson for every team leader (and team member).
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III. Vision - Begin With the End in Mind
Becoming a successful team leader requires that you help your employees shift from an individual mindset to thinking and operating as part of a high functioning team. The good news is that the majority of people sincerely want to excel as members of a team, as well excelling as individuals. They want to be part of something significant. They want to do important work and experience new challenges. They want to grow. They want to relate to other people whom they trust and respect. Perhaps most importantly, they want to create meaning in their lives. Joining like-minded others in the pursuit of a common goal is one of the ways in which they can do this.
All of this works to the benefit of the team philosophy: When members are committed to the overall success and vision of the team, the rest generally falls into place. The problem often lies with defining and implementing that vision a responsibility that rests with the team leader.
Each team needs to have its own unique and clearly defined vision that reflects its particular purpose and its personal character. The team vision or mission is the "unifying force" that brings together the diverse members on a team. To be truly effective, a team vision or mission must reflect the shared ideas and values of everyone on the team. Of course, the team vision must also support the organizational vision and align with other related teams.
Take note that there is a difference in a vision that has been created jointly by every member of the team and one that has been written by a few executives in a mahogany paneled room and this difference can mean a world of difference to the effectiveness of the team. The team mission statement must be more than a few flowery words on a piece of paper; it must reflect the shared vision of the team, as determined by the team. If the team isn't involved in the creation and implementation of the team vision, they won't buy into it.
A deeply felt team vision creates unity and tremendous commitment within a team. When all members of the team agree upon and understand their vision, everything else flows more easily. It creates within individuals an inner frame of reference by which they may govern themselves, and the need for management control, criticism or intercession is greatly reduced. If your team members have bought into the vision as a changeless core, defining what their team and organization stands for, your job as leader will be immeasurably easier and more edifying.
If your team is unclear as to its vision, or has not yet defined its vision, as team leader this must be your foremost priority. It will take time, patience, ingenuity, understanding, skill and compromise to design your team's vision but it's a necessary step.
The first matter is to call an all-team council. At this council, you'll want to make certain that all team members feel comfortable and understand that their contribution is vital, regardless of the history of past team functioning. You can use the following icebreaker, called a "Slogans Session," to get your team thinking and working together to formulate your team vision. Often, a non-threatening activity such as this can open up the discussion and really get all team members involved in the process.
Such team-building activities "put all participants on a level playing field and provide an environment for dialog, interaction and effective communication," says The Corporate Training Institute's Tim Buividas. "They allow people to experiment with different behaviors and ideas in a safe learning laboratory."
Exercise #3: Slogans Session
The purposes of this activity are to give team members an opportunity to reflect on the current character of the team; to furnish an opportunity to assess the team with images rather than numbers; and to provide a springboard for defining and implementing an all-team vision with mission statement.
A copy of the "slogans" handout (below) for each person, writing instruments and chairs set around a round or rectangular table
30 to 45 minutes
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IV. Conflict Resolution - The True Test of Leadership
One advantage a team has over an individual is diversity of knowledge and ideas. However, with diversity comes differences, and differences can lead to conflict. These conflicts remain the number one problem facing most work team leaders. Research shows that although most managers are aware of and have received conflict-resolution training, they fail to give sufficient priority to resolving conflicts.
Not all conflict has to be bad, however. Conflict within a team can lead to new ideas and innovative ways of doing things, put the spotlight on underlying issues, agitate for needed change, bring about greater efficiency and productivity, and ultimately lead to improved communication and closeness. But negative conflict, left unchecked, can quickly escalate into a crisis situation. Nothing can immobilize or destroy a team as quickly as destructive conflict.
Conflict arises from differences in opinions, backgrounds, values, attitudes and experiences. Destructive conflict often stems from factors such as poor planning, faulty communication, vague objectives and expectations, a climate of distrust or disrespect within a team, undue pressure to meet deadlines, budgets or responsibilities, personality conflicts, resentment and competition.
In order to deal with conflict effectively, you'll need to understand the causes of conflict and the impact of conflict on individuals and on the team as a whole. As team leader, you must recognize conditions for potential conflict, try to derail conflicts before they escalate, and manage situations when and if they arise.
The key to healthy conflict management is communication. Examine the following barriers to communication that are sure to lead to conflict, and be alert to whether they are occurring in your organization:
How do you, as a team leader, eliminate these barriers? There are five generally accepted methods for managing negative conflict:
Whatever methods you and your team employ, conflict must be purposefully dealt with, for well managed conflict can be a source of innovation and growth.
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V. From Mediocrity to Excellence - Leading the High-Performance Team
Within most organizations, team excellence is an absolute prerequisite to organizational excellence, since much of the day-to-day work is accomplished at the team level. Organizational excellence can only be defined in the context of individual excellence and team excellence.
Team building is the process of leading an average, or even inferior, team into the realm of high performance. It is a systematic way to enhance a group's ability to execute and achieve at consistently high levels. Using team building techniques, an effective team leader can guide his team from mediocrity to excellence in teamwork.
For a tangible depiction of the
range of teamwork, it is helpful to lay out a teamwork continuum. In this example, the
negative end of the continuum is defined as mediocrity in teamwork and the positive end as
|Teamwork Continuum Mediocrity in Teamwork -------- High-Performance Teamwork|
Where, on this continuum, is your team? Mapping where you are today, where you can be tomorrow, and where you should be ideally helps bring your work into focus.
The challenge for every team is to improve their ability to function at the positive end of the continuum, and to continuously accomplish higher and higher levels of performance. To do this, every member of the team must strive to continually improve their team skills and their ability to add to the whole of the group.
Change is usually inconvenient and often uncomfortable. But a forward thinking leader will embrace change as a path to an increasingly higher functioning team.
|There are many variations in the creation of
successful teams, but we can identify certain hallmarks of high-performance teams. They
By understanding and internalizing these qualities of highly effective work teams, you can help advance your team toward excellence.
Improving Meeting Efficiency
Improving the efficiency of your meetings can also be a great asset. If it often seems that your meetings are nothing more than a necessary evil, your team may benefit from the following tools and exercises. But remember, "the key to any successful activity is the real transfer back to the workplace," says Buividas. "If the activity cannot relate to the workplace, it should never be done."
Exercise #4: "Meeting Monsters"
The objective of this activity is to identify the types of behaviors that disrupt team meetings and to develop tactics for dealing with problem behaviors in meetings.
All team members and leader(s) - ideally five to 20 people.
60 to 90 minutes
Chairs around a conference table or tables arranged in a U-shape. As an alternative, three or four sets of tables are spread out around the room so that people can sit in teams of four or five members.
Materials and resources:
Handout: Meeting Monsters
Many of these "monsters" are disruptive to the team process and can subvert your goals. Here are two ideas for reducing disruptive behaviors and minimizing their impact during team meetings:
But remember, Bowde cautions, "A high-performance team leader must be careful to avoid slipping into the roles of steering or facilitation. Your role is to teach and encourage high-performance team behavior and to provide options and approaches when the team becomes stuck. A facilitator who 'oversees' a group or seems to be steering the group, can also cause individuals to 'quit and stay,' a situation where group members lose interest, enthusiasm and ownership in the team processes."
Team Member Evaluation
Part of your role as team leader may also be team member evaluation. Two methods for evaluating and tracking individual performance are the performance agreement and the team member self-assessment.
Exercise #5: Team Member Self-Assessments
Team members can effectively use this tool with little or no direction. Have team members spend 15 minutes at the end of the workday each Friday to review and record the week's accomplishments and shortfalls, and to devote an hour during the last week of the month to a similar analysis of the month's successes and failures. The individual appraising his or her performance should develop a checklist that they feel reflects all of their expected roles and goals, as well as addresses the four areas of responsibility described earlier to ensure that all are adequately performed.
Additionally, set time aside at the end of the year to individually review with your team members their progress and to develop a plan for their personal development during the upcoming year.
Exercise #6: Performance Agreements
The focus here is on results, not methods. In focusing on results over methods, the agreement unleashes greater human potential and advances individual accountability. The agreement can be in the form of a contract or a letter; it's not material to the success of the exercise. In the agreement, responsibilities and consequences are clearly spelled out. These predetermined consequences then become the natural result of the team member's performance not a "reward" or "punishment" arbitrarily handed out by you or other management.
With a well-defined performance agreement, each individual team member will have a clear understanding of the results of their choices. They will know, for example, what will happen if they regularly miss team meetings, if they're uncooperative, etc. (reprimand, reassigned, etc.) Or what will result if they consistently advance the team mission, or if they fulfill their appointed responsibilities, etc. (recognition, advancement, bonus, etc.) The consequences, negative or positive, will be clearly laid out. As you can see, performance agreements can be liberating and motivating.
A note or two on the subject of compensation and reward: In general, most teams will not attain high performance levels unless there is adequate recognition for the accomplishments of all team members. This can be achieved through feedback, public recognition, praise, monetary compensation, fringe benefits and/or promotion. It's just a basic fact of human nature that we all desire and perform better with rewards. You will see better results both on the team and personal level if you tie in an increase in performance with an increase in reward.
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"You can't change the fruit without changing the root," the saying goes. For team management and coaches, trying to improve your team leadership without understanding the principal of win/win can be as successful as trying to uproot a weed by hacking at the leaves. Win/win is more than a technique or program; it's a total paradigm of human interaction.
In an interdependent relationship such as a team, the win/win principle is really the only viable method of interaction. Essentially, each member of the team, including you, must feel they are "winning" in their job. Winning, not in a competitive sense, but in mutually beneficial cooperation. Wining in the allotment of responsibilities, the management of resources, the conducting of meetings, the resolution of conflict, the earning and rewarding of compensation and in each of these areas, the team manager must strive to discover solutions that will please and benefit everyone. Anything less than win/win in interdependent situations is a poor second best that will negatively impact the long-term team relationship and performance.
Within a win/win paradigm, the value is on the team: we can do it, we can achieve, we are responsible, we can cooperate and pool our time and talents to create something better together. Using win/win, you can create a team of highly effective members who work together to compete against self-imposed criteria and external standards of performance.
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VII. Conclusion - Teams Work
People usually bring to their work some experience with teams. Whether through Camp Fire Girls or Little League, most employees have participated in one team or another during their lifetime. Work teams, though different, are an extension of these early teams. Work teams have been important since people first formed organizations to accomplish tasks too big to be performed by individuals alone and they will remain important as long as people continue to live and work together.
And, as organizations continue to make the advantageous move to teams, motivated, well trained and caring team managers will remain an indispensable human asset. The task that lies ahead for leaders is in meeting the challenge. Aristotle said, "Without definition there is no meaning."
As Buividas puts it: "Starting today, leaders, coaches and managers need to re-define, re-communicate, and re-commit to ensure that all employees have the same basic understanding of the team, its goals and their individual roles in creating its success. If leaders took time every day to clarify the vision, conflict would decrease, members would be more aligned with the mission and purpose of the team and the organization, productivity and profitability would increase, customer satisfaction and loyalty would increase, and a workplace based on trust and mutual values would be established."
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Tim Buividas, The Corporate Learning Institute.
Center for the Study of Work Teams, University of North Texas, P. O. Box 311280 Denton, Texas 76203-1280, (940) 565-3096
Donald J. Bodwell, Electronic Data Systems, (972) 734-3026
G. M. Parker, "Team Players and Teamwork" (Jossey-Bass, 1990)
G. M. Parker, "Cross-Functional Teams: Working With Allies, Enemies and Other Strangers" (Jossey-Bass, 1998)
C. A. Townsley, "Resolving Conflict in Work Teams" (CSWT Reports, 1999)
G. M. Parker and R. P. Kropp, Jr., "50 Activities for Self-Directed Teams" (HRD Press, 1994)
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