A Developmental Process
High-performance teams develop in stages.
It is good to be aware of these stages, because they normalize the experience of growing and developing into a high-performance team.
The model I’ll be discussing is part of the “forming, storming, forming, and performing” model from Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, which was developed in the 1960’s. You could also use the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership theory, which is very similar and created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, authors of The One Minute Manager. I’m tweaking these models and giving them spice.
By teaching these stages, groups can be asked to identify which stage they are in. Then have the group design the necessary steps for reaching the next stage. Again, this exercise is great for allowing the team to focus on growing, developing, and normalizing their struggles and challenges.
The stages are as follows:
Stage A – The exciting “first date” stage. This is the birth of the team that is still a group, and there is typically excitement and anticipation about the team’s potential and possibility. There is an uncertainty, but there is also optimism.
Stage B – The “poop hits the fan” stage is when reality sets in about how group life can be hard and demanding work. It is no longer fun, and there is finger pointing between employees. Mutual accountability is seen, by most, as an empty concept. Team members look at whom to blame for their results. This stage, it should be noted, is where most teams die. There is the need for the manager’s and coach’s support and focus. The team needs to generate commitment to work through the issues. This is also where the employees’ love of the game is needed. Stage B is where focus and discipline are crucial for success.
Stage C – The “getting behind the game” stage. This is when everyone begins to align behind group performance and recognize what needs to happen for the group to succeed. Discipline and focus arise when the group follows the same ground rules and work approach. For the first time, real group performance results are seen.
Stage D – This is the high-performance stage, where the team is using its group structure to produce remarkable results. It is typical, at this stage, for the team to be recognized both internally by management and externally by customers for the results that are being produced. Team members also typically like this structure and feel connected to one another. The team is winning its game.
We Designed Ourselves
A high-performance team designs its own high-performance structure.
A manager and/or facilitator is critical here. When I act as a facilitator, I have teams create their purpose statement. This is less abstract than the company’s mission or vision statement. It is a few simple statements, in business terms, about what the team’s objectives are and how they will work together to achieve them. Keep it simple and real.
An example of a purpose statement from one client – let’s say Company X – is “to profitably provide our customers with solutions to their needs.” Another purpose statement, from a group that ran the SAP IT enterprise system for a very large university, was: “work in partnership with academic and administrative units to provide IT services that enhance the university’s value delivery of research, education, and engagement.”
Once the purpose is established, I have the team create one to three simple metrics by which they will measure themselves. Metrics do not need to be complicated. They can be things like revenue, rework, or amount of product produced, and they should be simple and relevant to what the team is out to accomplish. Who will perform the measurements and when the team is advised of the metrics also needs to be determined.
Again, an example from the Company X Leadership Team:
- Capture rate on firm bids
- Number of new Company X standard processes captured and documented as SOP’s
- Dollars in new sales in current year
The team then outlines what it is committed to achieving in the next six months to a year. These are no more than six to eight clear and measurable objectives and results, each with a date by when they’ll be achieved. Monthly milestones and action plans may also be necessary to properly focus performance. Again, from our beloved Company X, here is what they established for themselves:
- Book $15M-$20M in project work
- Establish and implement international strategy
- Complete modernization of lab
- Implement project management
- Build new website
- Implement hiring plan
For the next part of this process, the team designs its meeting structure: When will they meet and for how long? How does the agenda get set and by whom? Who leads the meeting? How are notes taken and distributed? These are all issues to clarify.
The last aspect of this high-performance team structure is that the team sets ground rules, or behavior expectations, for one another. These include things like: If you have an issue with someone on the team, deal with that person directly; no gossiping about members of the team; silence is agreement, so if an issue is being discussed and you are quiet, this is telling the group that you agree; if you do not agree, you need to speak up. These ground rules can be quite confronting for some team members, specifically those who have not been operating like responsible adults.
Here is an example of the ground rules that Company X Leadership Team set:
- Respect for one another
- Listen first and in all interactions
- Standardizing approach is supported
- Honor commitments, and be in communication when you are not able to
- No bad-mouthing customers
- Gossip-free zone – if you have an issue with someone, deal with that person directly
- Don’t take things personally – we are playing a business game
At the end of this entire team structure exercise, Company X’s leadership team’s structure was as follows:
- Purpose – To profitably provide our customers with solutions to their chemical process needs
- Directions and Goals – Improve employee morale, improve profitable growth and positive cash flow, become preferred solution provider in selected global markets, improve business processes
- Measurements – Continually monitor estimated versus actual cost; tax profit in current year; cash flow in current year; 75 percent capture rate on firm bids; number of new Company X standard processes that are documented
- Objectives – Start creating and/or updating job descriptions; $15-20 million in new sales in current year, strategic plan shared with entire group, interview sales/marketing candidates, meet current project deliverables, sell three projects
- Meeting Structure – Weekly status updates
I have found that having a team design its own structure allows it to develop and perform much more quickly. This is because in doing so, the team has to confront the performance issues it will encounter at some point. The process allows for those issues to come to the fore sooner than later, which speeds up the overall process. Once this process is complete, it is important that the team honors and walks the talk that it designed. Sessions focused on how the team is doing in this help ensure the success and performance of the team.
This material is intended to be valuable and supportive as you work to put together a high-performance work team. That said, do not be another business dunderhead! Get cracking. Apply and utilize this material. It is worth the effort.