High performance teams have a mentality to succeed

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.

 

 

Enabling high performing individuals to power high performing teams

A thumping for the Northern Hemisphere in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals – match winning performances from Juan Imhoff, Julian Savea, Fourie du Preez – and the absence of Paul O’Connell – showed the impact of high performance individuals on a team game.

Ireland’s defeat to Argentina was unexpected, and the loss of captain Paul O’Connell was keenly felt. However it ends, I’ll feel lucky O’Connell once said about his career, but his forced international retirement due to a hamstring injury was a huge blow. He was their talisman and leader.

Whether playing for and captaining Munster, Ireland or the British Lions, O’Connell has been a dominant presence at the heart of the scrum, the lineout and as a leader of every team who have followed him out of the tunnel. Much like Martin Johnson, O’Connell is a galvanising force when the spirit of those around him looks as if it might dip or flag.

Having lead Ireland to successive Six Nations championships, he is Ireland’s third most capped player, the twelfth most international capped player in rugby history. Not bad for someone who only started playing rugby at 16.

O’Connell has never given in without a fight. It is his defining quality. His lineout prowess, ferocity of his scrummaging, his octopus-like stretching arms over the maul, his work-rate, his rugby intellect – all marked him out as a key player in any team. It is the fierce, elemental nature of his play that sets him apart. That has been ‘Paulie’, uncompromising, committed, a colossus.

Another milestone at the Rugby World Cup was the 100th cap for the explosive All Black centre Ma’a Nonu. He has built a reputation as a beautiful passing centre, a blockbusting runner able to break the line, off-load the ball and set up or score scintillating tries.

On a cool Friday night in Newcastle, he ran out first onto the field versus Tonga for the 50,000 crowd to acknowledge the achievement. At the final whistle, brother Palepoi hung ula’lole around his neck, blindside Jerome Kaino lifted him on his shoulders through the player’s tunnel, and Richie McCaw presented the tasseled silver cap recognising a century of appearances, only awarded to only five other men before him.

Despite Richie McCaw’s absence due to injury, there were a historic four centurions in the All Blacks team – Tony Woodcock (118 caps), Dan Carter (109) and Keven Mealamu (129), joined Nonu. McCaw has a staggering 145 caps. Mils Muliaina is the other centurion on 100 caps, retiring in 2011. Sadly, injury to Woodcock saw his international career end on the night.

It’s a fantastic achievement to gain one cap for the All Blacks, let alone a hundred, and whilst many claim great teams operate to the maxim ‘there is no I in team’, there is no doubt that successful teams are comprised of high performing individuals like O’Connell and Nonu. If you crush the individual character and spirit of those who form your team, how can your team operate at its best?

The strongest teams don’t neutralise individual tendencies, they leverage and harness individual talents, not stifling them – the All Blacks clearly show this with over half their team being the best in the world at their position. Yet, with great individual talent to hand, why is it hard to get teams to realise their potential? How can people work more effectively in teams?

Key business dilemmas such as these were researched by Mark de Rond, in his book The I in Team. Combining social and psychological research with stories from team sport and high performance athletes, de Rond tested many popular notions about teams. His findings advocate a new way to view team potential as a path to business advantage, and shows what team leaders can learn by focusing on the individuals within them.

His overriding conclusion is quite stark and unexpected: Performance should take precedence over teamwork because over-emphasising the harmonious nature of a team can have a negative impact on performance. The assumption is that team harmony is somehow a cause or precursor for performance – a lot of the evidence points exactly the other way.

So the maxim There is no I in Team turns out is only half true. It ignores the fact that great teams have great individual members, and high performing teams are not always easy places to be – de Rond acknowledges that with few exceptions, the qualities that make individuals gifted can make them wearisome as team members, and that powerful teams are made up of individuals who have chosen to work as a team.

In his research, de Rond tackles other realities of teams:

Everyone is not equal In high performance teams, star performers increase a team’s overall effectiveness but only to a point. If the proportion of stars versus average members exceeds 50%, you begin to experience diminishing returns.

Emotional intelligence plays a part de Rond reports that ‘If someone is strongly disliked, it is almost irrelevant whether or not he is competent. By contrast, if someone is liked, her colleagues will seek out every bit of competence she has to offer, meaning that a little likeability has far more mileage than competence in making someone a desirable team member.

Too much harmony can hurt team performance Without internal competition, teams may underperform. A healthy level of internal competition can help get the best out of high performers. While we want everyone to be on the same page, people have different versions of reality.

Productivity tumbles with size de Rond shows that productivity and team size is less an issue of coordination, and more a problem of contribution. Team members are more likely to optimise their performance when faced with slightly fewer members. Larger teams were inclined to seek consensus rather than explore novel ideas – de Rond describes this as ‘social loafing’.

Teamship de Rond’s research highlighted that the most effective teams are unsurprisingly comprised of consistent membership. In a group of ten, where six members have been together for six months or more, this is the tipping point where socialisation of new members is manageable and doesn’t impact productivity; beyond this, the imbalance of existing and new team members is dysfunctional and has an adverse impact on performance.

Complimenting de Rond’s research, 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 team failure, identifying the five dysfunctions, where a team becomes silos of individuals.

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

Having these concerns, the key challenge is to ensure team cohesion and that high performing individuals fit into this dynamic process, building the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of goals and objectives.

We have seen star teams do extraordinary work. For example, it took just 600 Apple engineers less than two years to develop, debug, and deploy OS X, a revolutionary change in the company’s operating system. By contrast, it took as many as 10,000 engineers more than five years to develop, debug, deploy, and eventually retract Microsoft’s Windows Vista.

The blockbuster movie Toy Story – one of the most innovative and top-grossing films of all time – wasn’t the product of one visionary filmmaker. Rather, it was the result of an often prickly but ultimately productive collaboration among Pixar’s top artists and animators. If you have world-class talent on a team, you multiply the productivity and performance advantages that stand-alone stars deliver in terms of sheer firepower.

Take another sport, cricket, where the individual performance matters and there are star performing individuals, but always, for the greatest impact, it has to be channelled towards the collective end. Individuality alone is insufficient – a batsman may continually hit centuries, but if bowlers and fielders don’t perform, the team won’t win.

Contrast James Anderson and Kevin Pietersen in terms of attitude and behaviour. Anderson a world-class performer who is committed to the team and whose authenticity and humility are self evident, it was instructive to find the telling remark made to Kevin Pietersen, a similar ‘solo’ performer to Anderson but who is disruptive to the team, was made by his former England colleague Matthew Hoggard, that ‘maybe team sport’s not for you, Kevin?’

Pietersen is a highly gifted cricketer, a unique batsman, a fearless seat-of-the-pants player capable of transforming a match. To a great extent he has done so by marching to the beat of his own drum, for which, while he was at his peak and delivering awesome performances, allowance was made for his maverick tendencies.

Having been acknowledged as England’s primary batsman, guaranteed to deliver, his England career decline coincided with his decision to seek riches elsewhere, lauded for his talent as an individual performer, notably the IPL. These mercenary tendencies manifestly began to intrude on and take precedence in his thoughts.

He opted out of being a team player and playing for himself. He sought rewards for his personal performance as a bat-for-hire, hawking himself around the franchises of the cricket world, playing mediocre cricket by his standards. Playing for the England team became secondary on this agenda.

It is also noticeable that this focus on himself and not the England team career coincided with his public conflict with the team management, and tension with his teammates. Pietersen had little respect for the team cohesion. As a result, he will not play for England again and to suggest otherwise is just delusional.

The implication is that leaders should look to assess an individual’s attitude around the ‘I in team’, specifically ensuring that team members are clear about and happy with team goals that have been identified. Appropriate action should be taken on developing team communication and shared responsibility – developing the ‘we’ mentality, that it would appear Pietersen lacked, but O’Connell and Nonu have in spades.

So considering all this research, what attitudes and behaviours should you look for in high performing individuals when building a team? For me, there are three primary considerations to consider high-performing individuals:

A sense of humility & equality Humility 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. Everyone in an organisation contributes through assigned roles. While high-performers will potentially deliver more impact, everyone on the team deserves to be treated with respect.

Authentic and collaboration Authenticity and collaboration are critical to both individual and team success. High performers who are team players are active participants. They come prepared for team meetings and listen and speak up in discussions. They’re fully engaged in the work of the team and do not sit passively on the sidelines simply focused on their own agenda.

Share positive, contagious energy Emotions are contagious and infecting a team with either positive or negative energy. You can be a germ or a big dose a Vitamin C. When you share positive energy you infectiously enhance the mood, morale and performance of your team. Remember, negativity is toxic. High performers with high egos are energy vampires and sabotage teams.

Both O’Connell and Ma’a Nonu shows that if you want a winning team, you need to ensure that each individual team member is responsible and committed to contributing to the team, and accountable for their performance and behaviour, no matter how much of an individual performer they are.

Effective teamwork is critical to an organisation’s success. We are better together than we are apart said Richie McCaw. When you score a try for the All Blacks, you do it for the team, because the silver fern on the front of the shirt, and the shirt itself, are more important than the name on the team sheet.

No one can whistle a symphony, it takes a whole orchestra to play it. Individual commitment to a group effort – that’s what makes a great rugby team work, a company work. Many of us are more capable than some of us, but none of us is as capable as all of us, but when you have an individual like Ma’a Nonu or Paul O’Connell in your team, it makes a difference.