Environments for high performing teams

Thinking about the culture you’re creating, after you’ve created it, is a bit late in the process. To create a culture where teams thrive, where high performers like working, there are at least four things you have to get right.

You can’t have high performing teams without big challenges

In their book, The Wisdom of Teams, the authors highlight the difference between companies and organizations that focus on teamwork as it’s own end and those who develop high performing teams as a by-product of the challenges they’re facing.

The reality is simple. It’s really hard to create high performing teams if you’re spending your time talking about high performing teams. Instead, you have to focus the teams on the challenges – large and complex challenges – that they face. When you do so, you have the potential to guide teams to a different level of collaboration and achievement.

So make sure you’re highlighting the challenges in front of you.

The environment for high performers should be emotionally rich

In environments that are restrictive emotionally, high performance is rarely seen. In emotionally rich and expansive environments, on the other hand, high performance was the norm. These were the results of a 1999 study where connections between team members were studied.

When people have opportunities to connect – a lot – and to talk – a lot – we see a different dynamic than when they don’t. But this isn’t shocking, is it? We expect that. What’s interesting is the tie to the viscous nature of relationships and emotion. The study created models to evaluate and predict performance and that’s where we see this dynamic at play, regarding an emotionally rich environment.

Think about it another way. In environments where there’s freedom to express any feeling, including frustration, people bond better and connect more effectively, than in environments where those expressions are limited (either by policy or habit).

So make sure you’re not creating a culture that only values agreement.

High performers often work with a lot less structure than others

processThe research of Pygmies is not normally where you expect to go to learn about high performing teams. Yet, another 1999 study published in Organizational Dynamics, does just that. And in looking at the life and decision making of Pygmies, they discover something interesting.

Trust is at the heart of high performing teams that are able to work and accomplish great feats without a tremendous amount of infrastructure.

Most organizations can’t help themselves. They want a process for everything. That’s how they think things will be managed and the hope is that consistency will deliver results. But consistency only delivers consistency.

Trust allows for a variety of decisions, all driven by context, without the requirement of high structure and process. And high performers embrace and relish this ability to have impact.

So make sure you’re not over-emphasizing process and consistency.

High performers need a facilitator more than a decision maker

In the old realm of organizational dynamics, the person at the top knew the most and had to make the decisions in order to make sure they were made correctly.

Today, information flows in numerous ways and there’s never any certainty that the person at the top has all the data. In fact, it’s rare. Which means that top role needs to look different.

I know for me, my role has changed over the years as my teams get far smarter and better than me at just about everything.

The result? Building an environment for high performers is more about facilitation than anything else. My job is to help evaluate a situation or scenario and make sure the right folks are talking about it in the right way and applying the right tools.

But how they come to conclusions is more a function of their own brainstorming than anything I’m doing.

In one study, the statement was best articulated as, “Facilitative leadership can make a difference,” and the difference was cited as up to 600%. That’s saying something.

So focus more on facilitation than on decision-making.

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