Burnley and Bolton dished up a fierce Lancashire derby on Saturday in their Sky Bet Championship league match, the Clarets edging it 2-1 and this morning stand proudly at the top of the league. A large, noisy following of 4,500 Clarets supporters filled up the top and bottom two tiers of the away end at Bolton, providing a quite raucous cacophony of sound.
Twelve games to go in the race to the Premiership, and the Clarets are relentless in their pursuit of a second promotion in three seasons. With a league record of Pl34 W18 D11 L5, Burnley has sustained a place in the Championship’s top five since September. It’s a tight knit squad, Burnley have used the least number of players in the division with only 20 starting league games.
Manager Sean Dyche believes their togetherness and group mentality will play a massive part in their ability to continue to compete for promotion. Dyche is methodical in his trade, articulate and intelligent in his analysis and communication, respectful to the opposition and has an enthusiasm for research with a learner’s mentality – a powerful combination for an effective manager leading a high-performance team.
Examples of high performing teams are pervasive. From surgical teams to Cirque du Soleil to emergency rescue teams, these teams showcase their accomplishments, insights, and enthusiasm and are a persuasive testament to the power of teamwork. The excel because team members apply a strong combination of diverse skill sets and experiences to their work, agree on common goals and expectations, communicate clearly, foster an environment of trust, and take individual ownership in the success
Teams are more successful in pressure environments when they capitalise on the team’s strengths, interests and capabilities and focus on building a sense of community, a teamship if you like. By understanding how teams form and become dysfunctional, harnessing the talents, skills and abilities of each team member and building trust through open and honest communication, we can gain insight and create a framework for high performing teams.
So casting an eye over Dyche’s leadership style, and observing his Burnley team, shaped in his own persona, personality and guile, what are the attributes of high-performing teams, in terms of their consistency of attaining and sustaining high performance levels and results?
There is clear unity of purpose Make the team’s purposes clear, and articulate the team’s performance goals. There should be free discussion of the objectives until members can commit themselves to them, ensuring the objectives are meaningful to each team member.
Clarify each person’s role in achieving the common purpose Define each person’s role in terms of its contribution to the team’s overall goals. This must be done in specific terms, not in vague generalities.
The group is self-conscious about its own operation The group has taken time to explicitly discuss group process – how the group will function to achieve its objectives. The group has a clear, explicit, and mutually agreed-upon approach on mechanics, norms, expectations, rules, etc. Frequently, it will stop to examine and reflect how well it is doing.
Alignment It goes without saying that trust, respect and camaraderie are underpinning essentials for a high-performing team to sustain a high level of performance. The team values cooperation, coherence and interdependence when the team has a common mission and purpose, and as Jim Collins states, Getting the “right people on the right seats on the bus” is more important than planning “where the bus should go” An army without a goal is just a bunch of violent men.
Each individual carries themself Meeting or exceeding the expectations of other team members, each individual is respectful of the mechanics of the group – arriving on time, coming prepared, completing agreed upon tasks on time, etc. When action is taken, clears assignments are made (who-what-when) and willingly accepted and completed by each group member.
The atmosphere tends to be informal, comfortable, relaxed There are no obvious tensions, it’s a working atmosphere in which people are involved and interested. People are free in expressing their feelings as well as their ideas. There is a lot of discussion in which virtually everyone participates but it remains pertinent to the purpose of the group. Team members listen to each other, every idea is given a hearing. People are not afraid by putting forth a different idea, even if it seems extreme.
Criticism is frequent, frank and relatively comfortable Criticism has a constructive flavour, oriented toward removing an obstacle that faces the group. However, those who disagree with the general agreement of the group do not keep their opposition private and let an apparent consensus mask their disagreement. The group does not accept a simple majority as a proper basis for action.
Acknowledge success, and reward the team as a whole Celebrate the team achieving important milestones. Acknowledgments of incremental successes can be more motivating than big end-of-project rewards. Keep in mind that the team review can never take the place of individual performance reviews.
Acknowledge success, and reward everyone individually, including a review of his or her teamwork As members of a team, the expectations and criteria for individual performance include showing a spirit of cooperation, engaging in good communication with others, and being willing to help others solve problems or get through crunch times. If feasible, encourage all team members to provide meaningful feedback to one another. Be sure to give each team member specific feedback about his or her strengths and any unique role that the person served on the team rather than just focusing on problems or performance gaps.
Pay attention to conflicts when they arise It’s natural for conflict to arise when people work together with intensity. Conflict, handled well, can produce constructive ideas. Sometimes team members will annoy each other, step on each other’s toes, or hurt each other’s feelings. Honest disagreements can become personal and heated. Let problems come to the surface and avoid the impulse to demand that the team members ‘just let it go’, unpack it and resolve it fully.
A sense of modesty & equality Modesty is critical to developing and maintaining positive working relationships. An individual whose ego is so self-inflated with their own self-worth will quickly run into trouble. Team members will reject and avoid them, productivity will suffer. Everyone in a high-performing team contributes through assigned roles. While there are different levels of responsibility, they still deserve to be treated with respect.
Make sure team members interact Encourage team members to ask each other for help and to offer it to each other. Synergy on teams is achieved when team members feel comfortable speaking up with suggestions that build on the creativity of other team members. This requires collaboration not competition.
So that’s the positive side of teams, but what we also need to consider is that things can come off the rails. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to ‘row together’. He explores the fundamental causes of organisational politics and team failure. According to Lencioni, there are five dysfunctions of teams:
- Absence of trust: unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
- Fear of conflict: seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
- Lack of commitment: feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organisation
- Avoidance of accountability: ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour which sets low standards
- Inattention to results: focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success
Teams that are cohesive, productive, and efficient don’t happen by accident and counter the above threats with their cadence and self-awareness. Successful teams are cohesive because team members work cooperatively, sharing common goals as well as the resources to achieve them. They are productive, not because team members never disagree, but because they have worked out ways to resolve conflicts when they occur.
They are efficient because tasks are assigned in a way that takes into account each member’s skills and interests, rather than letting the team be dominated by the most verbal, most aggressive, or most popular personalities. Managers play an essential role in developing and leading teams that work in these ways.
As Burnley face the run in of twelve games that will define the season, there is a calmness and confidence to the team going about their business, there is a sustained rhythm that all high-performing teams have. You can see the degree of focus, awareness and assurance that individuals have, performing in the knowledge that colleagues are equally on top of their game.
These are good times, when a slightly unfashionable, unheralded team is playing football with a streak of independence that is so invigorating for the people of the town who can be forgiven for wondering whether it could ever get any better.
Football is a team game played with eagerness and passion, based on simple philosophies such as running fast, tackling hard, moving from one end of the pitch to the other end quickly, using simple, direct, forward passes and then, crossing, shooting and heading whenever you are anywhere near the goal. It’s simplicity, like any team, is in the fact that the success is based on unity and collective purpose, and strong leadership.
Well-integrated, high-performing teams – those that ‘click’ – never lose sight of their goals and are largely self-sustaining. In fact, they seem to take on a life of their own. Besides the quality of the team, it all comes down to leadership. Research shows that sustained high performance teams always have a leader who creates the environment and establishes the operating principles and values that are conducive to high performance. The leadership formula involves working backwards – leaders envisage the future before dealing with the present.
The four most significant behaviours consistently demonstrated by high-impact leaders in high-performing teams are:
- Defining clear goals or a vision of the future in accordance with overall organisational aims (the ‘big picture’)
- Creating blueprints for action to achieve those goals
- Using language to build trust, encourage forward thinking and create energy within the team by powerful conversations.
- Getting the right people involved
Smells like team spirit at Burnley, on and off the pitch. As Dyche said after Saturday’s victory at Bolton, they know the mentality to be successful and we have that in abundance.