High-Performing Teams. What does this really mean?

The value of developing high-performing leadership teams has long been acknowledged and as a result, there is a plethora of research and management books advocating how to build a top team. But what really works, when teams are all different and increasingly interconnected?

In today’s context, effective leadership is Collective leadership, where mutual accountability and responsibility are shared, where creativity is ignited and where learning is an inherent part of the culture. As globalisation and technology reshapes how we work, the importance of developing high-performing teams will continue to grow.

Changing Challenges

So in this complex world, where global interdependence and exponential change are the norm, gone are the days when the major challenges or the best ideas can be realised by a single and heroic CEO.

And whilst scientific research shows that different contexts and teams command different ways of working, there are core challenges that unite them all:

– managing more demanding expectations of different stakeholders
– learning to live with multiple memberships and belonging
– increasing complexity and interconnected challenges
– growth of virtual working
– lower levels of trust both internally and externally
– lower levels of engagement through the business

So what sets a high-performing team apart?

A high-performing team is much more than just an effective team. Katzenbach and Smith, (93) prominent psychologists in the field of team research, set out a number of distinctive characteristics, which include:

– outperforming all reasonable expectations of the group
– high levels of enthusiasm and energy
– personal commitment that is willing to go the extra mile
– great stories of ‘galvanizing’ events – turning points where they overcame the odds
– more fun and humour than ordinary teams

They define a high-performing team as: ‘A group of people so committed to something larger than themselves’.

At Beacon, we believe that a high-performing team is one that:

– aligns on a compelling purpose
– collaborates and learns through diversity
– develops collective leadership
– achieves stretching performance objectives
– effectively engages with all key stakeholders
– jointly transforms the wider business.

Yet the above is not easy to achieve. The opposite to this is what many of us experience in our working lives. Spending hours in a meeting that is too internally focused? Ego battles and personal issues clouding important discussions? Meetings spent trying to prove another team wrong rather than recognising joint accountability? Blaming customers for projects not working? Alternatively, you may have experienced efficient meetings, but no action once everyone leaves the room?

So what makes the difference and how can a team change? There is no avoiding the time and energy required to build a high-performing team. Yet research suggests that executives are five times more productive when working in one than they are in an average one.

The Five Disciplines of high-performing teams

Whilst many of us have been on team-building days and taken part in team-bonding exercises, research shows that whilst fun, these investments do not achieve sustainable improvement to a team’s performance. (Carr and Peters, 2012).

What has been proven to develop high-performing teams across many different industries and types of team is an emerging and evidence-based coaching process called Systemic Team Coaching STC.

Systemic Team Coaching STC involves a shift from an individual to a collective leadership focus. The primary goal is to enhance the performance of the team as a ‘system’ not as a ‘silo’, so that the team can co-create greater value for themselves and for all critical stakeholders of the business.

Following over 30 years of research by Professor John Hawkins and other leading psychologists and in partnership with Henley Business School and the AOEC, (Academy of Executive coaching), the 5 Disciplines Framework addresses both internal and external elements that need to be worked upon for the team to be most effective.

These are:

  1. Stakeholder Expectations – what the team needs to deliver to external parties
  2. Team Tasks – what the team does internally to meet those expectations
  3. Team Relationships – interpersonal & leadership dynamics internally to the team
  4. Stakeholder Relationships – how the team connects to those it serves
  5. Team Learning – how the team develops to meet future challenges

Teams that embrace these 5 disciplines will see adventure in what they are doing, every setback an opportunity for learning and every challenge will spark their creativity. They will also be working at their collective best, achieving more as a team than the sum of their parts.

How to get started

The starting point is to understand where your team stands on these dimensions. This can be done with an innovative online diagnostic tool Team Connect 360. Such reflection and feedback from differing perspectives is critical. Team members often fail to recognise the role they themselves might be playing in a team that is not performing at it’s peak or understand the perspectives of their core stakeholders.

This opens up new pathways to unlearn and learn a brighter way forward.

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