How to build high performance teams

Perhaps the most challenging requirement of every management team is that of delivering on their approved strategy – year after year after year. While a tiny percentage sustain the momentum, the majority fail to achieve their strategy for even a single year.

In a Harvard Business Review article, “Turning Strategy into Great Performance”, Mankins and Steele show that:

"The average team achieves only 63% of the objectives of their strategic plans."

So what is the secret? How do we unlock the full capability of all our employees?

Over recent years all kinds of teams have emerged: self-directed-work-teams, mission-critical-teams, cross-functional-teams, and many more.

However, for many organisations the long-term results have been somewhat disappointing: managers have become drained from supporting and driving the processes; individuals have become fed up with attending yet another boring meeting – as part of yet another team; team-driving processes such as recognition and suggestion schemes have lost their allure; and in many instances the actual processes have been abandoned or “parked”.

These disappointments can usually be traced to the following failures on the part of management:

Failure to realize that High Performance Teams are but one cog within a complex system

The objective of managers and leaders in every business should be to build a High Performance Organisation – and building High Performance Teams is only one of at least a dozen key principles and processes that will deliver that end result.

Failure to realize that High Performing Teams need constant tuning, maintenance and lubrication

All too often management expect that teams should be fully autonomous units, “self-directed” and “self-sustaining”. But the reality is that managers need to find the fine balance between:

• On the one hand – setting direction for the team, defining and agreeing the objectives, nurturing, coaching and mentoring;
• On the other hand – giving space, and enabling the team to deliver, yet being in the wings to applaud, give recognition, and provide support when called for. Just like any other asset in the organisation, teams cannot just be commissioned and left to their own devices – they too need regular attention on the part of management.

Building high performance teams is not a quick fix. It is only possible and will only pay dividends when

by Ron Scherer


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