Thursday, June 17, 2010

Do You Want to Be a High-Performing Team?

There is a Monty Python sketch on a record called “Do you want to play the piccolo?” There are two breathlessly excited announcers telling the audience that in this week’s show they will learn how to play the piccolo.

“Really?” says the first announcer.

“Yes,” the second one confidently asserts. “Here we go. First you blow in one end, then you move your fingers up and down on the outside.”

“Wow, brilliant,” the first announcer responds.

Then they excitedly tell you how to solve the problem of world hunger (“Go to school and become really brainy. Then invent a marvelous new way of growing food and distribute it to all the world’s poor”), followed by how to win a Noble prize, cure cancer and live happily ever after.

A lot of leadership articles are the same. They repeat the banal and obvious without giving you further information on how to actually do or recognize the things they write about. Pretty useless.

Which brings us back to the title of this article, “Do you want to be a high performing team?” There are many articles on high performance, and they repeat the same things: have a vision, build trust and so on. They don’t give much information on what kind of vision works, or how to recognize the right kinds of trust when you see them.

The following is a quick list of high performing team characteristics. Next to each are a few adjectives that take them a little beyond Monty Python thinking. Koliso has used these with teams who aspire to be high performing, and they quickly realize whether or not what they are doing is enough.

  • Vision: An articulated and inspirational vision and mission.
  • Values: Clearly articulated in a way that ethically guides discretionary behavior.
  • Goals: Aggressive, concrete, measurable targets that raise expectations and minimize ambiguity.
  • Structure: Flat and nimble.
  • Performance management: Regularly monitored with rapid, transparent feedback. Recognition: Visible, quick and clear.
  • Talent: A mindset that expects and attracts the best and enlists their support
  • Community: Connected in a deep intimate way that demonstrates a desire to achieve stakeholder success.

In most cases my adjectives following each one help the team see the standard they have to achieve. Do they have a vision that is articulated to each employee and inspirational? Do the team’s values guide behavior when the rules aren’t clear? Are the goals they set aggressive, concrete and measurable in a way that raises expectations and minimizes ambiguity? You get the idea.

When we put the eight criteria to most teams who aspire to be high performing they usually see opportunities for improvement. As a simple checklist it gets them back on the road to a realistic appraisal of their team development and away from Monty Pythonesque surrealism.

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