Traits of a high performaning team
We hear a lot of talk about teams striving for “high performance” these days. Or better: this ambition is mostly coined by people who expect something from a team. Think managers, coaches, stakeholders.
First questions that come to my mind include “how does the team itself think about high performance?” and “how does the team interpret ‘high performance’ anyway?”.
Quite often, performance is measured by looking at a team’s output. Fortunately, these days many people actually talk more about outcome or value rather than just output. We have gained that over the last few years.
Another important aspect of team that is regarded as high performing is its level of engagement. This is often translated to the team’s level of extravertness: their ability to impress stakeholders, the interconnectedness they show, and how much fun they radiate.
So far so good. If a team is actually delivering and is having fun while working, then they surely must be a high performing team.
The real test of a team’s level of performance lies in its ability to perform well over a longer period of time. A team should even not only be able to maintain its performance, they should increase it continuously.
Of course any team can have its bad periods. Bad stuff or even trauma might happen which temporarily demoralises or disables the team. Nevertheless, a truly high performing team is able to overcome that and bring its level of performance (including fun) back to the usual level and then even beyond that.
As a coach, I challenge teams to think about their performance. I want to know if they actually care about more than just delivering stuff. Only when they have an ambition to excel, my coaching has any true effect. So I am looking for how they express their ambition. And in practice, this turns out to be pretty difficult. The most difficult thing seems to be to remember the ambition. No matter if it has been written down. In busy times, when pressure is high, the rat race always puts any ambitions to improve to sleep. And then retrospectives become pretty awkward, over and over again.
In my experience, the only way to overcome that darn amnesia-inflicting rat race is to “give a damn”. At least one, preferrably a few, people in the team should be willing to go the extra mile for the team. They must develop some intrinsic motivation to push through and build a great team. This may include starting earlier or staying late for a while. This may include saying “no” to urgent work that is actually not that important. This may also include being creative and experiment with new approaches and practices. So yes, it requires studying. It may even include bearing some resistance from team mates because they are still in the business-as-usual mindset, regarding any change as a threat and thus evil.
Ultimately, it will require you to overcome your own instinct that tells you “not to give a damn because nobody else does” or something similar.
“They should care first” is NOT a strategy for success.
If we’d all give a damn OR go somewhere else if we didn’t, then this world would be radically different. Change would be inevitable and “high performance” immediately comes within grasp.
Give a damn…or go. Don’t just stay for the sake of it.