Reflection: Team Management to Achieve Higher Performance

Managing a Team: The Basics of Achieving Higher Performance

So, you find yourself as a manager of a team either through promotion, a new project or movement of staff.  You understand the performance objectives and are happy with the accountability of the role and the expected outputs.  Now there is just the small matter of connecting the team together to provide high performance and bingo, cracked it.  If only team management was that easy!

There are hundreds of variations of how the team is formed.  A new team, an existing team, a team carrying vacancies and so on.  Consider the differing interplays, skills, personalities and formations that make any team unique.  I liken it to approaching a 1000-piece jigsaw.  It’s the role of the player to turn the pieces, find the corner bits and consider what the overall picture looks like.  Stand back for a moment to consider exactly who and what you are dealing with.  This approach, a refection if you like, will pay huge dividends later down the line.

Like all jigsaws, there is an overall picture to complete.  This analogy put to me via a consultant friend.  They were trying to convince me that there is a right and wrong way to approach this.  ‘Don’t start with the corner pieces, it’s pointless unless you know what the overall picture looks like’.  I didn’t agree.  My standpoint is that there may be very urgent issues to deal with or personalities to understand.

The point is you must start somewhere.  Considering the overall picture without first understanding the immediate issues is risky.  Outcomes could occur such as delaying a project or losing team members.  A manager is expected to deal with each aspect. I believe that if each element is considered and deeply understood, then where you start is irrelevant.

Pulling the team together at this point to consider the vision will lead to confusion.  Effective team management requires starting with what you can immediately see, deal with the issues that are happening now.

Team Management – Doing Your Homework

Where I did agree with the consultant, was that the team needs to be considered in a wider context.  A very simple question to start with is, ‘who and what am I working with’?  I approach new team management from a historic and consultative perspective.  This is helpful as it allows me to start from the beginning and not with any personal agendas.

What’s the point rushing in to ‘save the team’ on the say-so of one person.  You need to perform your own investigation to build up your own thoughts and actions.  That said, if 10 people are saying roughly the same thing, then you have consistency.  An idea of an approach should be able to form.

A microscope shown to be studying a specimen under a microscope
The importance of studying and doing your work, get it done.

Where possible, I learn as much as I can about the team.  This can throw up some interesting pointers.  Comments like ‘they were a real superstar team but just seemed to have lost their way’ will provide valuable insight.  This can then aid in creating a solution and therefore performance.  Once I have this, I then go to the team itself.  I really enjoy this part, learning about their hopes and ambitions, what does true performance look like.  Also, what does the team need from me?

Leadership, any leadership, is about deeply understanding the people with you.  This goes beyond the team management itself.  This is about their customers both internal and external, the overall manager and other stakeholders.  Once the objective and level of service are clear, it is so much easier to set expectations.  In previous reflections, I talk about authenticity in leadership.

If you are truly going to lead a team, this is the number one element.  Think about it, let’s say the team numbers 8, there will already be a healthy suspicion as you are new to the team yourself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, now imagine you are not being your authentic self?  However good you might think you are at masking behaviour, people are not stupid.  Now imagine being caught out, that noise is your credibility flushing away.

It Takes a Lot Longer Than a Minute

In the late 1980s, Ken Blanchard wrote a series of books called ‘The One Minute Manager’.  These were great books and I suspect the elements in them are still widely used today.  The reason Blanchard called them this is, he states, a great team manager looks into the face of their team for at least one minute each day.

This highlights the importance of engaging with your team daily.  There will be managers out there who will baulk at this concept asking why.  What purpose does this have or even claiming that they don’t have the time?  The argument goes wider than this for some managers, teams can be multi-site even global.  How can you possibly keep to this concept when we work in different time zones?

In these instances, I go to my fall-back position.  If you choose the title of manager, accept the pay and the status, you must also accept the accountability and responsibility of people management.  I speak to many managers and the one topic that is consistent is team management.  The issues raise from ‘time to manage’, having those ‘difficult conversations’ and differing skill sets.

I do believe that Blanchard is right with the face to face concept within his books.  Why, because it matters to the team members.  As previously stated, each team member will more than likely be a different stage in their team.  Some newer than others, some with differing work preferences too.  By not engaging, you run the risk of losing more time further down the line.

There will also be team members who require the extra time purely out of requiring direction.  Others, conversely, may not require the direction.  They just need to know you are on hand to agree on the outcome and be accountable for the final decision.  Through daily engagement, you will become accustomed to the way the team works.  Who is performing and who is not, moreover, why not.  It might only take a minute, it may take longer.  That’s ok if the transaction engages and is purposeful.

Good People…Wrong Job

The main difference between a team and a group is the differing job roles and skills.  A group of individuals in a call centre may have the same skills to achieve the common aim.  The training they receive will generally be similar and performance targets will more than likely be the same too.  Both teams and groups have things in common, they normally have a common aim.

The difference with a team is, I would normally expect each individual to have differing skills.  It could be that you have two team members with the same role just geographically split for example.   It is worrying when the team contains similar skills.  The terminology ‘team and group’ are interchangeable, this is where the confusion comes from.  I did have it put to me (in a call centre setting), you can’t call these people a group, it’s disrespectful.  What do we call the manager? The Group Leader?  People do get lost in and quite protective of the terminology they use.

The distinction for me is clear, a team has normally no more than 12 people most with differing skills to achieve a performance goal.  One of the toughest challenges I had was managing a team where all the skills were practically the same.  The team was stagnant.  Why?  After a short consultation period, the previous hiring manager hired people he liked.  In the words of one team member, ‘we all got on really well and had a good laugh’.

The legacy issue of that team was, I had a team of extroverted networkers.  The team member who was responsible for coordination of data was bored.  He wanted to ‘be out there meeting people and presenting’.  Good people in the wrong role.

The hiring manager did a poor job of creating a team.  They were never going to achieve high performance.  How could they? All they wanted to do was create new ideas and go and present them.  It took a re-shuffle and some leavers to begin again with this team.  It may seem brutal, this is what I was paid to do.  I see this time after time.  Hiring managers ‘taking chances’ on good people because they say the right thing in interviews.

The main issue here is, the manager sees them through a halo.  Whereas the wrong person is let go because ‘they didn’t feel right’. This is highly frustrating, especially when you end up with the outcome. Recruitment is reasonably simple, hire based on aptitude and attitude.

Individualism in Teams – Yes, It Does Exist

We have all seen and heard it, the very old adage of ‘there is no ‘I’ in team’.  Apart from the correct identification of spelling, this really is nonsense.  The people who (still) state this are, generally, trying to espouse a oneness, a togetherness of one overall goal.

It suits the definition of a group much better. Not that there is anything wrong in the overall premise, however, it is not helpful as an overall statement for a team.  I personally think this is an injustice to high performing teams.  It is exactly the notion of individuality that ensures a team’s success.

A group of red counter pieces set aside from a singular black counter piece
Individualism in a team is not a bad thing at all, it can actually equate team succession.

When I build a team or take one over, I want individualism.  For an effective team, and indeed team management, I want a differing skillset within each of the people.  The purpose of the role within a team is the expertise in the given area.  Of course, it is right to keep in mind the team objective, that’s why the team was formed.  It’s the skills and competence that will make this happen.

Moving beyond skills, there is the understanding of personality and that individuals personal working preference.  This is a fascinating area which and one where there is lots of help.  Personality and strength indicators such as Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Belbin Team Role Inventory (BTRI) are amongst a few of the tools available to help teams and team managers understand and appreciate team member individuality.

When used, they are incredibly helpful in identifying the type of personality or strength that the individual has.  It also shows how that person would like to work on a day to day basis.  As a consultant, I often hear that one member is not forthcoming with ideas or quiet during team meetings.  An observation here would be whether there is a change in behaviour or has this always been the case.  Is it a work preference or a behavioural (can’t do or won’t do) change?  The answer to that should determine the course of action.

When a whole team engages in this type of ‘team building’ event, it can often reveal many lightbulb moments.  My expectations are the team manager deeply appreciates the results and look to apply on a day to day basis.  More than this, the manager of a team should always be spending time within the team.  This will reveal more about the individuals, therefore, adding to the knowledge of that person.  This is a strong foundation for a team to build on. Identifying key elements that create high performing teams.

Final Thoughts

I genuinely believe that managing a team is can range from extremely challenging to completely satisfying.  The fact is you must put the work in to create brilliant outcomes.  This does not happen overnight nor will build itself.  Team management carries a huge responsibility, the responsibility of leadership.  It is, however, also highly rewarding when the time is spent early on to deeply understand the people within it.

If the dedication has been provided, one key element will emerge team-wide, trust.  Trust is key as it provides inner respect and an opportunity to speak and learn openly.  When team members realise that we are there to genuinely help one another perform better, life gets so much easier.

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