Teamwork

Building high-performing teams

Building teams that are effective and efficient can be a long and complicated process. Make sure you and your colleagues are meeting the most crucial factors of a high-performing team.

By Arabella Close

High-performing teams are hard to come by, according to leading executive coach Phil Crenigan FAIM. “The vast majority of teams are dysfunctional in some way,” he says. “Leading teams successfully and what to focus on is not taught at business school and is not catered for well in executive professional development. A bit like parenting, it is assumed that we know just how to create high performing groups, much as we just know how to be great parents.”

Over the coming months Crenigan will be facilitating workshops as part of AIM’s Leadership Outlook Series around the country. Each workshop will address how to establish and maintain a high-performing team. Here, we look at the crucial factors needed in any high-performing team.

Cohesion

A cohesive team is one that actively encourages collaboration, cooperation and participation. Cohesion doesn’t rule out disagreement or debate - in fact, it encourages it, within the confines of respectful and professional discussion. “High performing teams thrive on conflict because they are constantly restless to not just do what they have always done,” says Crenigan. “But [everyone should] feel confident and safe in the environment they are in to challenge and propose, and once the team has made a call, they regroup and consistently support the team based decision.” 
Methods to develop a cohesive team: 

● Consensus reaching

Resolutions that are satisfactory to all team members are not always going to be possible. However, aiming to achieve a group consensus on a regular basis will ensure your team members feel a sense of agency and inclusion. Pool your options, hear each team member out attentively and encourage debate. There will be some situations where reaching a consensus is simply out of reach, due to time constraints, or to prevent a solution that merely satisfies the lowest common denominator. In these moments ensure all your team members are heard and have participated in the discussion, even if they do not ultimately get the result they want. Most people can live with disappointment as long as they feel they have been listened to.

● Get to know your team

While it is important to maintain professional boundaries with your team members, there is a comfortable middle ground between inappropriate intimacy and a complete lack of interest in your colleagues. Establishing yourself as a leader who is approachable and friendly will ensure your team members are honest and loyal towards you. Understanding your colleagues on a personal basis will also enable you to see their individual strengths and assign tasks accordingly.

● Establish team goals and values

Make sure your team members are explicitly aware of what they are trying to achieve, both as individuals and as a team. This will most likely link directly to your organisation’s overarching strategy, so make sure each team member knows where your team sits in the organisation’s structure. Identify the team’s role, what its goals are and how they will be met. Set regular smaller goals within the overarching strategy to ensure there is a regular sense of growth and achievement. Refer back regularly to the team’s purpose so that it remains front and centre within your team mates’ minds.

● Celebrate the successes

Just as providing feedback on areas to improve is important for growth, so is acknowledging your team members’ achievements. Make sure that you’re not only providing feedback when it’s critical - this won’t encourage your team members to see you as on their side. Instead, explicitly acknowledge successes, improvements and developments. Take the opportunity to share the achievement with the whole team. Employees who trust their efforts will be noticed will be more inclined to continue performing.

 

Self-awareness


Self-awareness is crucial for all members of a team - but it is most essential for a team leader. Self-awareness ensures a leader can know their personal strengths and weaknesses. A leader who understands the particular knowledge areas and skill sets that they excel at, and which require improvement, can confidently stand their ground when they know they are right, and graciously acknowledge ignorance or wrongdoing when it is required. Self-awareness will allow a leader to know their personal biases and subconscious preferences, and take steps to mitigate their impact. Being able to say “I was wrong” commands respect in a manner which leaders who struggle to see their own limitations or shortcomings cannot. 
Gaining self-awareness is a long-term goal. It can take take years to establish a clear picture of yourself, and real self-awareness must remain flexible and nimble as you grow and change. Some possible ways to develop self-awareness are:

● Receive regular feedback

Actively encourage your team members to provide you with feedback. Send regular questionnaires to your colleagues with questions regarding your performance at work. Encourage frankness and remember to not let criticism make you defensive or punitive. Listen to it, acknowledge it and learn from it.

● Take personality or psychometric tests

Psychometric testing is a standardised method of measuring an individual’s mental capabilities and behavioural style. Take advantage of the ones offered for free online. Personality testing is generally less concerned with professional capabilities, and focuses more on revealing an individual’s character and psychological make-up. Always take the results with a grain of salt, and be sure to take a number of tests - the range of possible results are necessarily general and occasionally reductive. However, even the process of having to answer the questions can be illuminating and is worth trying. AIM offers it’s own questionnaire, the Team Management Profile, aimed at understanding your team’s work style preferences. Encourage your team members to use the personality and psychometric tests - it will enhance their own self-awareness and provide you with greater insight into what makes them tick.

 

“In order to be part of any group where trust is high, you need to feel safe being vulnerable and that asking for help is okay. You need to be open to challenges and scrutiny from colleagues, and seek input and advice from colleagues without it being politically exploited. You need to really know each other in depth - not just be co-workers.” Phil Crenigan, executive coach “In order to be part of any group where trust is high, you need to feel safe being vulnerable and that asking for help is okay. You need to be open to challenges and scrutiny from colleagues, and seek input and advice from colleagues without it being politically exploited. You need to really know each other in depth - not just be co-workers.” Phil Crenigan, executive coach

Transparency


Transparency is an indispensable tenant of a functioning and fair society. Transparency within business and government is fundamental to preventing corruption, discrimination and poor decisions. Within a team it is equally important and must be interwoven amongst all facets of team building.
Transparency builds trust amongst your team members and towards yourself - it must be both horizontal and vertical.. It keeps you honest and it encourages discussion and buy-in within your team. If your team members feel they are being kept in the dark or condescended to, it can breed resentment and poor performance.
Ways to develop transparency include:

● Clearly define roles and responsibilities

When roles are not clearly outlined, it can become difficult to identify who is responsible for what. This can result in employees shirking their duties or working overtime to cover somebody else’s job. Make sure each team member knows exactly what role each other has - create a document that covers all the responsibilities held by the team, and who is in charge of which ones. This will prevent time-wasting confusion and doubling up. For tasks that are not clearly allocated to one person, openly discuss the merits of all options for who to designate it to and take into account the current workload of each member, so that no-one feels slighted.

● Give regular feedback to team members

Just as you need feedback, so do your team members. Schedule in regular catch-ups to discuss their individual projects and relay any suggestions, criticisms or acknowledgements you have for them. It may be tempting to skip these when you're busy and time-pressed but avoid the temptation to postpone these meetings - they will demonstrate to your team members your investment in them, and ensure any potential issues are addressed promptly.

● Keep secrets properly

In any workplace there will be issues, ideas and plans which for one reason or another have to remain secret. If this is the case, make sure these sensitive issues are treated with proper discretion. Don't have whispered conversations in earshot of colleagues, or make masked comments. These create an environment where colleagues and team members can feel isolated and excluded. Instead, book a private room, go out of the office for coffee or keep the discussion to emails.

None of these features should be seen in isolation - they are interconnected and often one will beget another. Crenigan suggests that the trust and cohesion that is so crucial to a high performing team cannot be achieved without self-awareness and transparency. “In order to be part of any group where trust is high, you need to feel safe being vulnerable, asking for help is ok , being open to challenge and scrutiny from colleagues, seeking input and advice from colleagues without it being politically exploited. You need to really know each other in depth - not just be co-workers.”

 

Leadership

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From the Knowledge Centre

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A selection of useful digital and print resources on building effective teams and setting strategy from the AIM Knowledge Centre. Access is free to all AIM Members, online, or at one of our AIM libraries ...
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From the Knowledge Centre

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A selection of useful digital and print resources on decision-making from the AIM Knowledge Centre. Access is free to all AIM Members, online, or at one of our AIM libraries around the country.
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