Leadership & Management October 09, 2018

The secret to top performing teams

What you need to know to build a real team

Most of the vital work in organisations is done by teams. However, building and maintaining top performing teams isn’t always easy. Although we may expect the extraordinary from them, the reality is that teams do not always function as well as they could, that they underperform or even fail. So what stops teams from delivering results?

What do teams really need?

Teams need strong team players in order to perform well. People who speak up and express their ideas clearly and honestly. Members of a team also need to listen to and have respect for each other.

However, the combination of different personalities, attitudes and backgrounds don’t always make cooperation or communication easy. While some people are enthusiastic, supportive and helpful, others may be defensive and hard to work with. Sometimes relationships are competitive or people hold back because they don’t identify with the team they’re in. This can result in unspoken conflicts, a toxic atmosphere or a lack of engagement that negatively impacts the team’s performance.

“Leaders have to find ways to address these challenges and help their teams perform at the highest level. If leaders want to make the right decision and guide their team to success, they should first be clear about what a real team is,” says Thierry Stéphan, Krauthammer Senior Consultant specialised in helping management boards and teams to become high performing teams.

According to Thierry teams that deliver high performance are always driven by:

A common purpose

A team must have a "raison d’être", a credible purpose related to winning or producing cutting edge results. A high-performing unit "owns" this purpose.

Clear performance goals

Many top teams struggle to find purpose and focus and to allocate the right amount of time among the different topics they consider important. But if a team wants to succeed, it needs defined goals. Moreover, these aims have to be based on every member’s input. Strong goals inspire and challenge a team, giving it a sense of urgency and ambition.

Modus operandi

An effective team has clear individual roles and responsibilities. It has also agreed on a way of working and a decision-making process.

Mutual accountability 

Most people are good at being accountable individually. However, in an effective team, members also hold themselves accountable to each other and their shared goals.

Without these elements, a team runs the risk of failing to meet expectations or achieving their goals.

The high-performance package

So how can you make sure your team doesn’t just carry the "team" label and ensure that it has everything it needs to achieve results?

Here are some ideas around team composition and team dynamics that, in our experience, have long proved their worth. 

1. Select the right size
Research suggest that a team's effectiveness starts to diminish if there are more than ten people on it. Sub-teams start to form, encouraging divisive behaviour. Bigger teams also undermine ownership of group decisions, as there isn't time for everyone to be heard. A smaller team of between two and six people makes it easier for everybody to share their experience and contribute to the team’s goals.

2. Set the direction and obtain agreement from all the members on the team’s objectives
The first is alignment on the direction, where there is a shared belief about what the company is striving toward and the role of the team in getting there.

3. Involve the right people with the right capabilities
Beyond team size, you should consider what complementary skills and attitudes each team member brings to the table. Do they recognize the improvement opportunities? Do they feel accountable for the entire company's success, not just their own job/business area? Do they have the energy to persevere if the going gets tough?

4. Have an all-star team and not a teams of all stars
Decide together who will do what, how schedules are set, what skills need to be developed and how decisions will be made and adapted. Ensure that all members, including the leader, can contribute to the team's output in concrete ways.

5. Keep motivating the team
Create an environment in which team members are energized because they feel they can take risks, innovate, learn from outside ideas, and achieve something that matters - also against the odds.

6. Assist the team in continuously improving communication
Open, honest communication and a willingness to embrace conflict between team members is critical to build trust and respect – a key requirement for effective teams.

7. Meetings with purposeful content
One common complaint is that too much time is spent in meetings. However, the real issue is not the time but the content of the meetings. Team meetings should address only those topics that need the team's collective expertise not only to use the team's time well but to foster a sense of purpose too.  

Krauthammer’s High Performing Team Journey has been specifically designed for top management teams. Our programme covers four crucial areas: team mission, team spirit, team building and team working. The sessions comprise hard and soft topics and the programme’s content and duration is flexible.

http://hbr.org/the-discipline-of-teams

Originally published on May 17, 2017, updated October 9, 2018

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