Creating High Performance Teams

Performance within groups typically does not just happen. For a group to really perform well it needs practice. The group needs to understand the best way to organize itself for performance. This concept is commonly understood by sports teams and the military. They clearly see the need to give groups opportunities to practice. Boot Camp for the military and pre-season workouts for sports teams are the norm. It is interesting to note in business that there is far less interest or appreciation of group development and the need for practice. Team practice, for the most part, is not factored into the business or corporate world. We form groups in business and march them into the corporate battle zone expecting them to perform and when they fail we are surprised. This whole process was once again revealed to me as my business, CMI, went through the process of putting together a high performance work team. In 2008, we expanded our organization by one. A full 25% change in our employee numbers. This growth caused a change in our work mix and demands. In essence, we needed less administrative work and more research and marketing. As we went through the expansion process, some basic truths about teams, groups, and performance helped me traverse this territory.  Over the next few weeks, I will highlight some of these basic truths. For more information about CMI, click...

Not the Top, not the Bottom: the Third Strategy for Middle Management

The Third Strategy Still another way of developing the middle is through the establishment of a middle management development and training program. What this does is either bring in talented new hires or promote key employees into a rotation of positions throughout the company. Rotations can last from six months to a year, and the entire program can last up to two years. At one company I worked with, the Underwriting Manager became the Claims Manager, and the Claims Manager became the Underwriting Manager. What was great was that the employees of each department stepped up to support and train their new managers. This had some positive results. By teaching their new bosses, the employees better learned their own disciplines and roles. They also gained experience in managing up and supporting a manager to win. Meanwhile, the new managers got trained in an aspect of the business with which they were unfamiliar. They became better-rounded executives. At another company, managers formally rotated to sales and production management positions before being eligible to be Plant and Territory General Managers. This type of initiative provides a training and development course that allows employees to experience and learn about the different facets and aspects of the firm. This makes them more valuable as future leaders of the company. To learn more about CMI’s strategic development programs click...

Not the Top, not the Bottom: the Second Strategy for Middle Management

The Second Strategy Another way to support the growth and development of the middle is to form a group of middle managers from various companies. Participants are leaders from different departments: sales executives give input to production and human resource department heads, and so on. There is learning and sharing of different views that goes on during the group sessions, which I also recommend being led by an outside facilitator. I have led such a middle manager key-employee group. We met for each session at different companies, which allowed participants to see the different facets of participating organizations. This key middle management group also gained perspective by reading a different book for each session. Members coached one another on issues and concerns brought to the meetings. The coaching model we followed goes like this: A participant presents a problem with which he or she wants coaching and counseling. This is something challenging that they want their peers’ perspectives on. In “round robin” style, everyone asks questions about the issue. You are only allowed to ask one question at a time. Once the question is asked, the person presenting the issue responds with an answer. Then the next person asks a question. Once all questions are asked and responded to, it is assumed that everyone understands the issue. Participants then give coaching and feedback to the person presenting the issue. The participants, in effect, become one another’s board of advisors.   For more information on CMI’s leadership development programs click...

Not the top, Not the bottom: Strategy for Middle Management

The First Strategy Hire people in the middle who have aspirations, who want to grow and develop and are mobile. Thus you have leaders who are eager for opportunity. They are attracted to moving and working in a new location is attractive for them, and they are excited about establishing a new beachhead for the company. Create a process in which, as one of its yearly goals and objectives, top leadership has to develop and take courses. In one company I worked with, if you could not demonstrate to the CEO that you had improved your skill set and thinking abilities in the last year, you were not eligible for a raise no matter how well you had performed. In another company, if you aspired to be a director, you had to get an MBA. These policies can supported a company in dramatically growing both revenue and profits. For more information about CMI’s process for improving your leadership team click here....

Concluding Words for Building Performance Oriented Cultures

So there you have it – four steps towards building a high performance culture:  staffing, teams, mission and values, and planning.  Any movement up the slope to establishing these cornerstones will prove valuable.  You will also learn by doing – so do not contemplate your next steps…get going!  Let us know how you do and what you are learning and developing. Please leave your comments below or email...

Planning: The 4th Cornerstone of Performance Oriented Cultures

Strategic planning creates the platform for a healthy company. Strategic planning is a critical part of growing a successful business. A high performance work culture needs a system that makes sure that employee goals are aligned and everyone is focused on the right stuff. The fact is that many small- to mid-sized companies do not have a structured process from which to conduct strategic planning. This is like many adults who do not exercise, despite knowing it’s good for them. Perfect health isn’t guaranteed by regular exercise, but the likelihood of attaining good health is dramatically increased. Strategic breakthrough business guessing/planning works for businesses in much the same way as exercise works for the individual. The process should take place over two to three months and take three to four days. It is predicated on White Papers and dialogue. Listening and understanding are critical. Better research ensures better debate and thinking. “What is a White Paper?” you ask hysterically. A White Paper is a three- to five-page paper that addresses the critical issue. The paper should deal directly with the issues. It is, with research and analysis, the “answer” submitted by the smaller group to the entire planning team. Once you have created the plan, you need to make sure it is acted upon. Monthly meetings of one to three hours and spending time on objectives and action plans will ensure focus. Then, once a quarter, the planning team should meet offsite, preferably with a coaching resource like yours truly. (Bonus points if the coach is bald-headed. It makes the coach smarter and buffer…really.) At the session, the group...

Mission & Values: The 3rd Cornerstone of Performance Oriented Cultures

Create corporate mission & values that employees are aligned with. The foundational material—mission and values—of a company can be critical to the overall success of the organization – but they’re often forgotten. The corporate mission and values are created by the senior leadership team, captured on posters, and strategically tacked up around the building. Meanwhile, how does a corporate citizen react to this phenomenon? They see it as “Horse manure!” Whatever is in the mission or values statement is not seen as relevant to the organization’s day-to-day operations. In other words, the organization’s behavior is not congruent with its declaration of ideals. However, at their best, a mission (or “Reason for Being”) and values give an organization a future to live into. This potential future galvanizes and focuses the organization. Whether or not goals are met entirely, movement toward them develops teamwork and is valuable to the company. So how do organizations get to this point? Some of the following thinking and exercises were inspired by an article called “Building Your Company’s Vision,” by Collins and Porras, the authors of Built to Last. In the article, the authors describe how to write a reason for being and values. When thinking about your company’s mission, think about purpose. Ask participants in your session to consider the following: What is the purpose of your organization? What would be lost if the organization ceased to exist? What kind of organization would you work for regardless if you got a salary or not, etc. Now onto values. In this process, when I say “values,” I mean the right behaviors that will support the...

Teams: The 2nd Cornerstone of Performance Oriented Cultures

Have High Performance Work Teams throughout your company. Teams are powerful constructs, and high-performance ones do not spring up by magic. By the same token, business teams are not the answer for every performance issue. In corporations, while the talk is about teams and working together, there is actually a focus on individual performance. For the most part, there is no formal practice designed to enhance or improve group performance. High-performance teams are “a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and a working approach in which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” This definition of real teams comes from the article “The Wisdom of Teams”, by Katzenbach and Smith. Real teams are basic units of performance, and members of the team are mutually accountable for the results. This is quite different from how most of the work world is organized. When a group takes on mutual accountability for customers’ experiences, it can generate real customer-focused actions. From this, tangible and positive business results will occur. At my favorite restaurant, for example, the waiter greets me with my preferred glass of wine, letting me know that Chuck, the chef, has a special dish waiting. Everyone is clearly into giving me a personalized, pleasant experience, and I have not even ordered yet. I have found that having a team design its structure allows the team to develop and perform more quickly. This is because in doing so, the team has to confront the performance issues it will encounter. The process allows for those issues to come to the forefront sooner than later,...

Staffing: The 1st Cornerstone of a High Performance Culture

Staffing with the best – mediocrity can work with your competition. This is the mantra of a high performance culture. As business people, we do not directly control terrorist plots, the economy, our competition, taxes, healthcare plans, or national events. But even with unions, executives and managers do ultimately control who works in the company. We should make the most of this opportunity and leverage the “people piece” to enhance our companies’ performance advantage.   Here are some suggestions for raising performance and driving out mediocrity from CMI’s ABC process. Educate managers: Help them understand the definitions of A, B, and C players. Jointly gauge employee performance: at specific meetings, managers should jointly assess employee performance.  Only those who interact directly with the employee should state their opinions. This allows the employee’s manager to get candid feedback. In assessing performance, avoid grey areas – no pluses and minuses – managers must make a choice whether the employee is an A, B, C player. Take action: Ditch the D&F;’s. D & F employees will drag your company down. If you have more than a few D and F employees, sell the firm and do something to save yourself. Decide what to do with your C players. C Players are mediocre employees; these employees are marginal in their performance and unremarkable in any positive attribute they bring to the workplace. They exist, take up space, and just get their jobs done, sort of.  A test for “C-ness” is putting yourself in this scenario: if one of these employees came up to you and said they were quitting, would you be relieved?...