5 Ways to Create a High-Performance Team

Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Nick Williams
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Modern society, business and otherwise, is now driven by identity and personality. We are seeing the rise of identity politics as a driving force in every sphere of our world. In the past, you could be the biggest creepiest, selfish, sociopath in the known galaxy, but if you walked into a job interview with an impressive resume you could probably still lock down that high-powered job.  

This was especially true back when office politics were so archaic that things like inclusivity and team diversity were actually seen as roadblocks to success. Mad Men may be a pretty cool show, but thankfully it’s no longer a blueprint for workplaces.

There are still vestiges of the old boys club running the world, but things are slowly getting better for historically undervalued workplace contributors like women and people from different cultural backgrounds.  

With change comes more opportunities to build interesting and dynamic teams—but, with the rapidly evolving landscape of our society, many managers are at a loss concerning how to actually incorporate all of these vibrant new voices into the work space.   

Investors are noticing these changes as well, and since they’re the ones with the money, their opinions are pretty important. As stated in an article on team-building by McKinsey:

“...savvy investors in start-ups often value the quality of the team and the interaction of the founding members more than the idea itself. It’s why 90 percent of investors think the quality of the management team is the single most important nonfinancial factor when evaluating an IPO.”

So if you’re looking to up the quality of your team management, here are five important factors to consider when thinking about how to build a strong, high-performing team.  

1. Team composition: Everyone is important, even Ringo

There’s no denying that John Lennon was a great musician and songwriter, and probably neck-and-neck with Paul McCartney as the most recognizable Beatle. But can you imagine a band composed of 4 John Lennons?

It wouldn’t work because A) he had a reputation for being an overpowering know-it-all and B) all of the songs would sound exactly the same. Lennon needed songwriting contributions from Paul McCartney, he needed George Harrison’s understated presence to tie everything together, and he needed Ringo to be Ringo.

It might seem obvious, but the supporting cast is just as important as the star performer. The workplace ‘John Lennon’—the person who is always front and center in every discussion, making sure their voice is heard—needs a strong team to help contextualize their brilliant ideas and execute the specifics.

A common issue with bad teams is that strong personalities go unchecked. It’s great that Bill is passionate and intense about accomplishing the team’s goals, but if he’s talking over everyone and stonewalling different perspectives and voices, Bill is more a problem than a contributor.  

A high-performing team doesn’t only achieve goals, they help each other improve and develop personal and professional competencies. Some people make a big fuss about keeping work and home life separate, and that might be best in theory. But a high-performing team should be composed of people that each member can trust as support networks, even if they were NOT colleagues.

2. Play to your team’s strengths

Some themes in education theory relate very closely to the workplace—especially, the ideas of inclusivity and UDL, or Universal Design for Learning. The Universal Design for Learning is an educational model based on architectural theory, UDA (Universal Design in Architecture).  

While the approach is designed for educational curriculum, the major concepts in UDL apply to building a high-performing team as well:

  • There should be the least amount of ‘barriers’ possible to promote fair education for all.

  • Everyone has different experiences, skills, and ways of understanding problems.

This relates very closely to the works of Educational psychologist Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor who came up with the theory of Multiple Intelligences. He states that everyone has at least one dominant form of ‘intelligence’—for example:

Visual-spatial, which prioritizes thinking in terms of charts, graphs, and physical imagery.

Interpersonal, which prioritizes working in groups and with other people.

Or,

Logical-mathematical, which prioritizes reasoning and calculating.

It can be helpful to identify and encourage different forms of learning and working with each employee. By doing so can lead to improved role assignments and workflow objectives within teams.

  • Following the above point, social and physical environments should be created to allow different thinkers to relate to problems from different perspectives, and therefore, help the common achievement by bringing as many solutions to the table as possible.

You might be saying to yourself —“well, that’s great for schools, but what the heck does that have to do with building a high-performance team?”

The answer, in one word, is diversity.

Allowing different people to play to their strengths will also inspire them to go above and beyond in their performance.  

3. Good Leadership—Russian Revolution? More like Russian Revelation

You might think you’re helping the process, but ask yourself: Are you exerting excessive control over your employees, or leading like you’re running an autocracy? If so, both strategies will never foster a healthy, high-performing team environment.  

Take Tsar Nicholas II as an example, the former Emperor of Russia thought he was an amazing leader, the beloved and respected ruler of his country—until the Russian Revolution happened and he realized that his people thought he was totally vile and incompetent, thus getting tossed on his royal butt.

A lack of respect for one’s leader may not result in forced abdication, but it definitely has dangerous results. If resentment is simmering in the workforce, deliverables are going to be sloppy and moral is going to sag.

Poor management tactics, like micromanagement, suck and nobody benefits from them. Not every aspect of every person’s roles and responsibilities needs to be overseen at every second. Just as a good leader needs to be trusted, employees need to have their skills validated through trust.

1,000,000/1,000,000 employees list having their workdays being micromanaged by a supervisor as the single most annoying aspect of working in startup culture. Warning: the preceding study is completely imaginary and there is no actual proof to back up those numbers.

A helpful tip for understanding and trusting your team’s working habits is to examine group workflow divided by three levels of interdependence: low, moderate and high, or if you want to use fancy jargon, modular, sequential and reciprocal.  

Low, or modular interdependence means that the team does not need to work closely together to complete the task and usually consists of specialized work.

Moderate or sequential interdependence means that, although people are completing their individual tasks, they are relying on others to complete their own, and all work together within a common framework.  

High or reciprocal interdependence means that the task requires constant teamwork and iteration to be completed.

Many managers see meetings as essential team-building experiences where everyone spiritually aligns, but in reality, they can often serve to derail trains of thought. Instead, meetings should be utilized to organize aspects of the job that actually require meetings—things like cross-boundary expertise and general company strategy.

The idea here is not every task needs to be micromanaged, and especially, there doesn’t need to be 5 meetings per day to discuss those small, individualized tasks. Let people do their thing and meet up when you need to.

Control is difficult to let go of, especially if you’re used to having it. But as a leader, you should be influencing and inspiring, NOT controlling.

4.  Stick to trusted formulas

Remember in Star Wars: The Last Jedi where old-man Luke Skywalker gets really angsty when his dusty old Jedi tomes are lost and he’s like, “Oh dang, I guess now because these 3 books are gone that means the Jedi religion and traditions are gone forever?” Only to discover, in the end, that the books weren’t actually that important as the Force still lives on inside of him?  

Transpose that story onto business theory, although much of business and team management theory could be considered outdated, there are still valuable lessons to be taken from our predecessors. Lessons which can be passed on and taught by example to each generation of the workforce, evolving for the modern workplace.

Examining different personality types and how they can work most effectively together to build a high-performing team is an idea that has been explored in all spheres of society: from educational psychology (as we saw with Gardner) to professional sports and all the way to business theory.

For example, the Belbin Team Inventory sets out a very basic framework for personalities in the workplace that might be brought together and developed into an energetic, supportive, high-functioning team.  

These are not hard-and-fast rules on how to create a good team, but rather, Belbin’s Team Role definitions represent the perspectives of personality types that can be expected to energize a group and foster good interpersonal dynamics:

The Plant: The creative-type. They help implement ideas in creative ways and are usually associated with writing, graphics, or social media.

Resource Investigators: They have their ear to the streets, so to speak.  They understand what’s going on in the market at large, and can offer good insight into what market and competitor trends are.

Coordinators:  Otherwise known as team players. According to most resumes, that means literally everyone who applies for any job, ever, even if it’s at Starbucks. Coordinators help organize the team and are great at interpersonal relationships, delegating and synergy.

Shapers: Shapers help keep the team stay focused and organized—they help take all of the disparate elements being worked on and turn them into a cohesive project.

Monitor-Evaluator:  They focus on deliverables—otherwise known as a project manager.  These are the people who look at things objectively and aren’t afraid to say:  “Hey, your presentation is pretty solid, but here are some ways that it might be improved!”

Implementer: The practical, logical types. They take all of the lofty and creative ideas and figure out how they can actually be accomplished.  

Finisher: The QA types. They are always looking at the minutiae of the project and figuring out how to polish deliverables until they’re shiny.

Specialist: Somebody who has intense and thorough knowledge about a specific area and can help train and teach others. Otherwise known as a nerd.

5. Keep things fresh: Auto-renew your team’s success

Renewal is one of those corporate buzzwords that you see literally everywhere and it doesn’t mean when $9.99 gets withdrawn from your PayPal every month for your Spotify subscription.    

In the corporate context, renewal means to foster a team environment where people can feel pumped to come to work, because they feel like they can use their expertise and personal passions to take risks and innovate without getting yelled at by the company founders for three hours straight at the local cafe.

Renewal also means giving your employees an opportunity to learn and grow, so that they can be excited to implement their new competencies and experiences in their next project.  Make sure those good vibes are fostered like a tiny little egg being sat on by a hen—but don’t sit on your employees, because that’s not a good look.

So how does one ensure renewal in their workplace?  

A good place to start is with professional learning experiences. That can mean conferences, or it can mean inviting in speakers or gurus to talk to everyone. It can mean giving that random weirdo who you’ve hardly ever talked to a chance to prove what they’re capable of.  

Don’t be salty, your team matters more than you do

Team-building and teamwork is one of the most discussed and written about business topics for good reason, as teams are the backbones of any successful endeavor.

A man named Michael Jordan, once said, in reference to the difference between an all-star team and a team of all-stars:  “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

You know who won a boat-load of championships? Michael Jordan.

Jordan didn’t win his championships with the Bulls single-handedly though—he needed those Scotty Pippens, those Dennis Rodmans, and he needed a strong and supportive leadership voice that came in the form of Phil Jackson. So, at the very least, Listen to Jordan—the guy definitely knows how to be successful.

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