By Rebecca Bennett
Let’s make business personal! Really!
Companies are realizing more and more that often times their competitive advantage is their very own teams. As a result, companies are pivoting to become much more people oriented, rather than product and process oriented.
In order to build a high performing team, there are 3 things as a team leader you need to provide: the vision, tools, and environment. However, where a lot of leaders fail is they look at their role only from the angle of the organization. They don’t think to look at it from the angle of the people actually performing the work. This faulty, one dimensional way of thinking that business comes 1st, in fact diminishes team performance and thus leads to a mediocre output. The people are as much of a fa
ctor to success as the product itself or the proprietary and organizational processes to get there. Therefore, in order to maximize team performance and meet or even supersede company objectives, as well as grow as a leader, leaders have to learn to achieve organizational needs by understanding human behavior and operating within the frame of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – Physiological (not a
ddressed here), Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. Humans can simulate robotic behavior, but we are not robots in nature, and thus don’t do this well. We do however operate off all the same basic needs.
Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the top 5 drivers of performance in order of impact that were discovered from a research study capturing data from 80 teams from across 27 tech-based organizations, some Fortune 500s, and how those map back to the Maslow frame for human behavior.
1) A professionally stimulating and challenging work environment meets Esteem and Self-Actualization of Maslow needs. (Environment)
2) Opportunity for accomplishments and recognition meets Esteem of Maslow needs. (Environment)
3) The ability to resolve conflict and problems meets the Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization of Maslow needs. (Tools)
4) Clearly defined organizational objectives relevant to the project meet Self-Actualization of Maslow needs. (Vision)
5) Job skills and expertise of the team members appropriate for the project work meet Safety, Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualization of Maslow needs. (Environment)
As a team leader, we come back to your role of needing to provide the vision, tools, and environment, which I have mapped all of these back to. Here are some suggestions to feed these drivers.
Driver #1: A professionally stimulating and challenging work environment
1) Communicate the company’s mission and goals first. Tie these back to the team personally and professional, instead of telling your team what to do at a micro-level, which is the tendency of most managers. From there, move on to building the strategies together, and then let them know it’s up to them to develop the methods, techniques and tactics to get there. If they are still unsure or have questions, this is an invitation to just reframe the vision for them. Try not to create their to do list for them. It is your job to help them figure that out by asking them the right questions. This provides them a stimulating challenge and a culture of autonomy, far from robotics and more critical thinking.
2) Try a “mission-discovery” exercise when bringing a team together. Have the team re-write the company mission statement together according to what their work means to them. Then post the new statement visibly for everyone to see. T
his can bring incredible meaning into someone’s work, as well as on-board a new level of commitment.
3) “What would you do if this was your company?” This is a very powerful question you should ask your team and one of the most powerful insights a leader can uncover. It not only will show you where team members stand in relation to your initiatives so you know how you need to reframe your vision so they are in alignment, but it might also re-align your vision!
4) Give junior associates the opportunities to learn new skills by involving them in initiatives where they have minimal experience and matching them to a senior associate who they can learn alongside. They will be much more committed to this type of work rather than robotic administrative work.
Driver #2: Opportunity for accomplishments and recognition
5) Emphasize the professional opportunities in the work. This puts the company’s initiatives in a frame that the team member can relate to more personally, thus gaining a much stronger level of commitment and motivation.
6) Implement a team-based reward systems. Individual reward systems are great too, however basing the reward on the teamwork is much more powerful in getting the team to work together well. Implement both! Consider awarding regular work-from-home days, perhaps more responsibility, a party where you publicly recognize each individual’s effort, or consideration for working on more challenging projects that have meaning and promotion potential.
7) Give exposure and visibility into the importance of the work that your team does as well as their ability to out-perform, across the company and externally. By creating a positive perception of the team, they will feel the pressure to live up to the coveted reputation you paint. When you promote the importance of what your team is doing, they will feel important and will naturally want to take more ownership because they will have pride and purpose.
Driver #3: The ability to resolve conflict and problems
8) Focus your efforts on problem avoidance and lead by example. Recognize conditions and areas where problems typically stem and put in place preventative measures. If a problem still surfaces through these measures, visibly deal with it at its onset. Keep the problem in check by removing all personal attachments. Once objectified, use the “5-Why’s” to find the root cause and then zero in on finding a scalable, long-term solution. Don’t stay stuck on that the problem is a problem. When you hear team members circling around a problem, guide them to re-focus on what matters going forward.
9) Having an open-
door policy, and reminding your team it’s okay to bring issues forward, keeps issues in center view and prevents them from falling to the wayside where the risk of resentment can build up, sometimes irreversibly.
10) Encourage your team to take a break when situations and problems escalate, particularly interpersonal issues. Give them the time they need to get their heads on straight, helping them to see problems as situational. Then act as moderator, as needed, to bridge both parties to a suitable compromise.
Driver #4: Clearly defined organizational objectives relevant to the project
11) Obtain early team involvement, gathering your team’s input collectively before kicking an initiative off. Do this especially, when there is a high level of complexity and risk. Present the challenge that is instigating the initiative and guide them to the conclusion you want them to come to so that they can own the solution from the very beginning. Ask them the questions and share with them stories of what other companies have done that you like and have them build on the examples you provide and figure out the answers versus telling them what to do. This will build enthusiasm, commitment, and team morale.
12) Share your vision regularly, modifying the frames you present it in so the picture becomes clearer and clearer.
Driver #5: Job skills and expertise of the team members appropriate for the project work
13) Perform “SWOT” on your employees. There’s action. And then there’s action with strategy. Anyone can assign someone a job to do. But it takes a little more investment of your time to pick the best person to do the job. And sometime’s it’s not just about picking, but rather cultivating. A company isn’t paying you your high salary to just pull the trigger take action. They are paying you to point before you shoot. Invest some time into really learning your employee’s strengths, weaknesses, hidden talents, as well as what they enjoy and where they are looking to go next. This will help you pick the best person for the job, even if we’re talking new hires from outside.
14) Supplement Gaps. Keep in mind that rarely is someone going to be the perfect package of what you are looking for to fill a role. When piking people for roles and responsibilities, don’t waste 6 months looking for that perfect hire, when the candidate you saw in your office 4 months ago had everything except 3 skills. See if you have the resources to help supplement those gaps in a different way. For
example, pairing them with a mentor, pay for some training or educational resources, or taking those aspects of the role out and bringing out the hidden talents of others to help assist in the job instead
A high performing team is highly committed, enthusiastic, efficient, has high morale, resolves disputes quickly and effectively, has pride and purpose, takes ownership, focuses on solutions, feels appreciated, embraces learning, works towards professional goals, and thinks critically. In conclusion, to maximize team performance, leaders must remove the barriers to these influential drivers. In order to do that, they must understand each team member’s personal and professional needs so they can foster an organizational environment that is conducive to those needs. Once this is in place, leaders can frame the company’s objectives in a way that makes the mission personal, resulting in higher commitment, motivation and performance. By making business personal leaders can maximize team performance.
Thamhain, Hans J. Managing teams in complex project environments. http://www.pmi.org/learning/library/managing-teams-complex-project-environments-8081