CEOs frequently wish to build a better team. The current team might be dysfunctional and need fixing, or has simply not yet reached its full potential.
By replacing dysfunctional team habits with more productive ones, they usually make great progress.
8 high performing habits that senior teams should cultivate
- Work on the team
You know the adage ‘work on the business, not in the business’. The same principle applies to your team. Leadership groups should regularly get on the balcony and look down on the dance they do. By identifying the unhelpful patterns of team behaviour they fall into, they can then choose to change their team dance. Remember, it’s more powerful to work on the system that produces the results, than just working on the results.
- Commit to ways of working
Google set out to learn what makes teams high performing. They discovered that high performing teams were committed to group norms or behaviours. Examples might include ‘cabinet solidarity - we commit to what the team decides’ or ‘We engage in fierce debate to produce the best answer’. By committing to meet some fundamental expectations of one another, the group deliberately promotes healthy team dynamics.
- Cultivate both types of trust
US Navy Seals represent the gold standard for teamwork. Leadership expert Simon Sinek once quizzed some Seals about who they would prefer to have on their team. The choice was either:
(a) A teammate whose professional competence was only average, but was a person whose intentions were honourable, or
(b) Someone who was a brilliant operator but whose intentions were self-serving.
Overwhelmingly, the Seals chose the first option. That’s because we value trust in a teammates’ intentions even more highly than their competence. High performing teams engage in deliberate team-development that cultivates both types of trust.
- Find your why
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed that when a person finds their reason for being, they can bear almost any burden. Tony Robbins, the well-known motivational speaker rephrased it as “find your why and you find your way”. The same is true for teams. When the going gets tough, teams can fracture and move apart. A shared purpose has a powerful effect of binding teams together, and energising them.
- Balance results and relationships
High performing teams care about results and relationships. Ordinary, average teams prioritise one over the other. When only results matter, the personal needs of team members are ignored, resulting in lower trust and commitment. When relationships are always prioritised, the team can feel weak, sentimental, and anaemic. Paying attention to both results and relationships creates sustainable high performance.
- Separate technical from the adaptive
There are two types of problems senior teams must solve. The first involves familiar technical problems which the team can reasonably quickly diagnose and solve. The second involves novel and complex problems that require more time for the team to engage in collective sense-making and strategic navigation. Too often senior teams try to solve adaptive challenges within the restrictive mental and temporal boundaries of their regular team meetings. To make progress with adaptive challenges, a separate meeting rhythm should be established to allow the team to elevate their thinking and collaboration to a different level.
- Decide what kind of team you want to be
Golf teams often comprise players who complete their individual rounds and then add up their scores at the end. Basketball teams play together, flowing and collaborating on the court to contribute to the one single team score up on the board. There are times that senior teams need to play like a golf team, trusting each other to independently make their best contribution within their division or function. At other times, the team needs to work together like a basketball team if they are to make progress with enterprise issues or solve complex problems. Great teams know which game they should play at any given time.
- Networked, not hub and spoke
Watch elite sports teams to learn about feedback and accountability. On the field, team members praise helpful contributions, and hold each other accountable. Unfortunately, in many corporate teams, all meaningful performance communication is mediated through the team leader, like the hub and spoke pattern of an old wagon wheel. This produces a natural constraint on performance, and leaves the team leader feeling overburdened. In contrast, a high performing team is an agile learning network, connected in all directions by two-way flows of communication, allowing it to respond much more rapidly to its changing environment.
Developing high performing team habits can help your executives produce the high-quality collective leadership your organisation needs. Indeed, it may just be the most important ingredient that allows your company to meet the current moment, adapt, and win.