Faces framed and puffy. Eyes glazed and unfocused…. As usual, same time, same zoom. That CFO’s cat gets less cute and more mangey every time I see it. Him letting her purr during the meeting, not so much. Kid screaming needing daddy every time we meet. Sales VP really? Do you think we do not see that you are texting, sending emails, making purchases while pretending to pay attention to what is being said Ms. CEO? Do we have to see you wearing that…? dirty T-shirt? Is this the new corporate casual? This describes leadership team meetings I have witnessed and how it has been in the Pandemic.
HOW A HIGH- PERFORMANCE TEAM RESPONDS
With the above history we arrive to where we are now. Many leadership teams have not been with each other live face to face for over a year. Vaccines are occurring – what does it really mean? Is everyone eventually getting vaccinated? That is a no. Many leadership teams that I know of have at least one member committed to staying not vaccinated.
Can we and should we mandate all employees get vaccinated? Can we hire only vaccinated people? Why is there such a labor shortage and what can and are we doing about it? Can we ever come to work like normal? When do masks come off and under what circumstances? Where is the stuff I need and how do I make sure I get it regularly? Did someone say inflation??!!
The federal government is predicting growth and real recovery. Is that something you and your company are ready for? Is your company’s leadership team ready for the growth opportunities and up to dealing with inflation, and the labor challenges? Is your organization’s leadership team ready to emerge from “we survived the pandemic” to having the organization positioned for growth and health in the new emerging world?
The answer lies in, is your company’s leadership team really a high-performance team and prepared to lead in this new era? What follows are thoughts and ways to diagnose and improve your leadership team in winning in this new reality.
On the court leadership team performance does not just happen and takes something. An accepted model is to look at team performance that develops in stages. The purpose of this article is to take apart what it is like being inside these stages and what it can look like as a group comes together and develops into a high-performance team. The article finishes with a Hollywood basketball sizzler scenario.
High performance teams do not spring up by magic. As you develop and lead business groups and want them to develop into teams, there are critical points that need to be recognized. First, teams are distinct from just business groups or departments. For business teams to fit the definition we are offering, there is a mutual accountability between team members for the results that the team produces. We all win, or we all lose on a team, and we are involved and hold ourselves accountable for that outcome.
This is different from a typical workplace where everyone is only accountable for what we individually do. Typically, the employee is only accountable to their manager, supervisor or team leader who wants to avoid conflict and will in many cases, just leave the employee alone.
Mutual accountability means that we team members are related to each other around performance. This is different than being related around getting along or simply surviving each other. It means that group output is needed, and we count on each other for it. Team performance is a different deal than just adding the sum of individual performances.
STAGE ONE: THE JOURNEY BEGINS
In the beginning and Stage One of becoming a high-performance team there is excitement. Change and something new looks exciting. Let me give you an example.
A leadership team that I am working with recently had its first planning session. The membership of this team had not changed in three years except for the Manager of Human Resources who recently surprisingly left only to be replaced. The new Manager was attending the planning session. Some significant roles had been switched between team members. So, while in name the team had been in existence for a few years, given the changes, it was like a new team.
There was excitement in the group as demonstrated by all the energy and focus given to the new HR Manager. She also contributed to the energy and enthusiasm. A virtual love fest! There was uncertainty as to who exactly was taking on what from whom. Another factor that happens in beginning teams is that the traditional leader, in this case the CEO, needs to be directive and preset in their leadership style.
It was interesting to watch what happened. In the beginning, the team was focused and moved ahead solving the issues before them. Then the CEO was pulled away and had to leave the meeting. At this point, without defined leadership, the team floundered and was unfocused and even I, the beloved bald one, could not keep it on track.
Thankfully lunch occurred and the return of the CEO aka directive leader. With very little effort he generated focus and excitement and we continued. In the early stages of a team the following exists; feeling that this could be fun combined with some anxiety about how to do it.
As I describe this team, grapples with “What really are the rules”. Standards need to be developed regarding how the team is going to engage given the new member and new roles. Dependence is on the CEO who needs to be directive and help the group focus and solve its problems. This occurs, next steps are developed, and the CEO supports. The planning session completes, and we disperse.
HIGH-PERFORMANCE TEAMS DO NOT SPRING UP BY MAGIC. AS YOU DEVELOP AND LEAD BUSINESS GROUPS AND WANT THEM TO DEVELOP INTO TEAMS, THERE ARE CRITICAL POINTS THAT YOU NEED TO RECOGNIZE. FIRST, TEAMS ARE DISTINCT FROM JUST BUSINESS GROUPS OR DEPARTMENTS. FOR BUSINESS TEAMS TO FIT THE DEFINITION WE ARE OFFERING, THERE IS A MUTUAL ACCOUNTABILITY BETWEEN TEAM MEMBERS FOR THE RESULTS THAT THE TEAM PRODUCES.
STAGE TWO: A ROCKY ROAD FORWARD
A few weeks later rumblings begin. I hear complaints about Sally, the new HR Manager, and the team. There are issues between the new HR Manager and the Production Manager. Then other issues arise between her and the Office Manager. The CEO then calls me, and it is a “Houston we’ve got a problem” conversation. Stage Two of team development has landed. “Storming…to coin the traditional description, and when the poop hits the fan”, is my description of the second stage.
The HR Manager had originally stated that she had been vaccinated. She then shared meetings unmasked with the Production Manager who, at home, has a gravely ill husband and if he got COVID he would die. The new HR Manager then revealed that she had indeed not been vaccinated and the poop hit the …. with teammates in upset.
This Team went from the excitement of Stage One and plunged itself into Stage Two of team development. The team was challenged by the sense that this is not fun and that there is something wrong. Fingers were pointed. There was uncertainty and the feeling of being incapable. No one took responsibility and instead there were several individuals complaining and upset. This issue festered for about two weeks.
A meeting was called by the CEO. During the meeting, each member of the Senior Team weighed in. Vaccination status was not the only issue with the new HR. Manager. There apparently had been other incidences of miscommunication regarding her and other team members.
This company takes its Corporate Values very seriously and one of them is operating with integrity. The team decided that there had been an unrecoverable breach of integrity and trust by this new HR Manager. The solution was that the HR Manager, after three weeks of employment, was let go.
This had a real impact. The company is dealing with and challenged by recruiting for three key positions. It also must retain route drivers who now have many options of where to work. This is in addition to the company dealing with all the complexities relating to employees and COVID. Their focus on doing what they need to do reflects them moving very quickly from Stage Two to Stage Three, the “Getting Behind Game” stage.
STAGE THREE: LAYING NEW TRACK
Getting from storming Stage Two to performing Stage Three is a critical step in a team’s development. Just like in personal relationships, hard times will either weaken the relationship or make it stronger. A team must demonstrate that it can deal with adversity and conflict if it is to improve performance.
In this stage of performing, the group aligns, gets focused and recovers from the storming that previously possessed the team. The focus of the Leadership Team goes from worrying about its problems to playing the game and solving its problems. For this team it meant going from complaining about the HR Manager to being engaged in hiring the new one and laying new track.
Another example of a team moving from Stage Two storming towards performing is the following that happened at a Commercial Laundry Company. There was bad blood between the Production Manager and her boss, the General Manager. There were allegations of lying and verbal abuse. Managers were threatening to quit. The CFO and GM were at each other’s throats. The CFO was threatening to quit. In the past this team had been high performing. However, with these challenges, this group slipped back into Stage Two.
The question whenever a team goes into dysfunctional Stage Two is: how long you are going to stay there? Like most situations when a team goes from Stage Two to Stage Three the leader, and in this case the CEO, needs to take on leading and directing. The CEO after some initial reluctance jumped in. He hired a consultant to do interviews and coaching. After some intervention he decided the GM needed to go…
This was a huge decision. The CEO and GM were close, and the GM had worked there for many years. However, this decision was decisive in the Team’s recovery. OMG what a recovery this team had as it roared back to stage three.
The CFO had Production report to him newly and the CEO took over managing Sales and Service. Suddenly, this company was focused and performing. The District Managers improved, and retention improved. In addition, accounts receivable had not been this high in a long time.
The hallmark of Stage Three is the following: Increasing ownership of performance standards. The Service Manager especially stepped onto the field and his team performed as never before. Performance standards got hammered out and hostility decreased as the team worked out their personal differences. Mutual accountability grew as well as a focus on the customer. Failing forward – learning and improving from trial/error with rapid recovery was evident. Enthusiasm and energy levels increased. Support for each other was evident. Small wins were bringing large smiles. Acknowledgment and appreciation of each other became a hallmark. After all the recovery, this team was clearly in a different place and performing.
STAGE FOUR—EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS ON ARRIVAL
Stage Four is the high performing stage in a leadership teams’ development. For this I go to Hollywood and a dated and enjoyable film called Hoosiers. I recommend watching it as it follows the true story of a basketball team in Indiana that went from perennially losing, to one year with a new coach going to the state championships and winning. This was a big deal and Indiana still talks about it.
The movie delineates the stages that a team goes through. Back to Stage Four…. here we are in the last game. The crowd is going berserk as only in an Indiana high school basketball game. It is the winning point, and the coach calls them in for a time out. Their last time out…. Tension mounts.
The players are sweaty and hot. The coach tells them the play and the team gets weird. There is silence and no energy and then one of them says: “Let Jimmy take the shot”. Jimmy is this tall pasty looking kid. Then the coach gets a strange look on his face. There is a conversation between the coach and the players. The team aligns behind Jimmy who makes the shot. They win the game, and the coach gets his sweetie….so much for the spoiler alert…see the movie.
The hallmark of this Stage Four is that the team performs beyond expectations. Members are feeling good about the standards and are meeting or exceeding them. There is real consistency in performance. There is shared leadership, and the group is not dependent on the formal leader. Leadership changes as in this example between the members who can add value and make the biggest difference. This happens easily and with grace. There is trust and open and honest communication.
So where are you and your leadership team as you emerge from the pandemic????? Are you in Stage One – excitement and norming, Stage Two – storming, Stage Three – getting behind the game or Stage Four – high performing and kicking B _ _ _?
As we emerge from the pandemic and get our feet under us, let us know what strategies you are using for developing team performance. Thank you for being our partners in helping each other. Game developing high performance leadership teams on…