I asked a sample of leaders how often the teams they have either led or been a member of have fulfilled their potential. Their answers surprised me. They were pretty consistent, only about 1 in 20. My next question was more revealing, how did they judge the performance of these teams? This time I mostly got a blank response. I concluded they all knew their teams were not performing as well as they could but without knowing how to measure performance, they were at a loss how to improve it.
How do we measure team performance?
The most common way of measuring team performance is whether the team achieves the goals set out for it. After all, the only reason you form a team is to achieve an outcome that couldn’t be achieved if everyone worked alone. The leaders I interviewed noted a difference between the team’s potential and their goal. Most said the team achieved its goal, or close to it, but they rarely exceeded it. You might think that is ok, but let me reframe what they said. Their teams barely achieved the minimum acceptable level of performance. As a leader, would you be satisfied delivering the minimum acceptable level of performance? I think the answer to that is pretty clear, especially if you want to have a successful career, and yet that is the standard we accept for team performance.
What is Missing?
If we just focus on the team’s business results, we are not paying attention to how those results are generated. This is a bit like asking an athlete to get better and not do any training, instead believing that by playing the game they will fulfill their potential. Ask any athletic coach how that will turn out, probably not good unless you are the one in a thousand natural born super talent. For the rest of us, it won’t turn out well.
How Does a Team Generate It’s Best Results?
We believe the results of a team are directly related to the conversations it is having, the conversations that are not happening, and the quality of those conversations that are taking place. All action and inaction taking place within the team are a result of its conversations. A key leadership key responsibility is ensuring the right high quality conversations are taking place. If your team is not functioning well, you are missing some key conversations.
The Conversations of a Team
We describe these conversations in terms of five groups:
- Why – What is the purpose and goals of the team?
- Form – What sort of team is required and who needs to be a part of it?
- Create – How do we best collaborate and work together?
- Manage – How do we coordinate action across the team to achieve our goals?
- Measure – How do we assess the performance of our team and learn to improve it?
Most team performance models describe a series of events; you start by forming the team, you build trust, and then you take action. We see this very differently, the conversations in a team are dynamic in nature and occur in an ongoing flow, they are never ending. A change in any of these conversation centers will impact the others. We describe this as the Rhythm of Team Conversation.
This is the first in a series of posts where I will dive into each of these conversations, describing in more detail how you can use them to transform your team and what happens when they are absent.