October 2004

How Leaders Get Supercharged Team Results

Every executive’s dream

  • A team leader that fully owns the results and delivers them
  • A team that strives for results beyond what is requested
  • A team that is resilient, flexible and creative

Over the past 15 years, I have watched executives and senior managers from a variety of industries, in large and small organizations, wrestle with disappointments in team performance. While this is typical, it is in stark contrast to Supercharged Teams. Supercharged Teams consistently deliver results that stand out.

Supercharged performance often seems like team member chemistry. However, every so often, something happens and a typically performing team shifts into Supercharged mode. There are lessons to be learned here, especially for the leader.

The real questions are - What specific changes would make a team deliver ‘stand out’ results? How can senior managers give team leaders what they need to supercharge their teams?

In this article, you will find a method for supercharging your teams, what leaders need to accomplish it, and the tools to deliver supercharged results. We will look at:

  1. Where efforts are misdirected
  2. 8 Steps to Supercharging your Teams
  3. Tools to assist You
  4. Results from this approach

Where Efforts are Misdirected

1.   Executives send the wrong signals

Here are some of the incorrect signals that we have witnessed.

  • Not paving the way with stakeholders (including leaders from other functions or partner organizations) to clarify and support business priorities.
  • Not giving teams what they need to be successful – resources, tools, feedback, help. Not caring how the team works as long as the job is done.

2.   Think anyone with the right experience can lead

Some teams operate in spite of their leader. These teams are working hard to compensate for the leader, or are putting in their time but not getting needed results. The actions of a team leader are critical to team success.

Some people are natural Leaders who inspire others to accomplish the remarkable without any special training. Natural Leaders are ‘unconsciously competent.’ While these natural leaders are rare, we can learn from their specific behaviors.

If motivated, most people are capable of learning the specific behaviors that supercharge teams.

3.   Need for a “process” for team development

People actively working to produce results don’t want a development process. They don’t have the time or inclination. Workshops and artificial experiences that don’t directly make progress towards results are generally not welcome.

Using artificial situations to identify and highlight team issues are not good vehicles to resolve team problems. People want to focus on how to get the business results they need to achieve. They want specifics:

  • Actions to operate more effectively.
  • Resources and tools to produce the result.

4.   Use people’s perceptions or attitudes as a guide

People, especially average performing team leaders, use ambiguous language to describe team difficulties.

  • Lack of trust
  • Poor communication
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Not working well together

This language is used both in conversation and to assess team performance. Trying to address these broad characterizations is a fishing expedition. It calls for team processing and requires precious time that teams don’t have to ferret out what is actually happening.

Supercharged Teams, first and foremost, speak the language of action. How do we need to operate to produce the result? Where can we use our strengths? How can we cover our shortcomings?

5.   Focus on Individuals

Understanding individual styles and personality types is often part of a team improvement effort. It does have its place. Learning about other’s styles gives people information about how they could work together better. However, there are negative side effects:

  • It shifts the focus to interpersonal dynamics.
  • It often exaggerates ‘problem individuals.’
  • It takes the focus off producing results.

Eight Steps to Supercharging Your Teams

It seems like every team and every leader try to reinvent the wheel. They are not operating from a set of ‘engineering principles.’ They are not choosing principles that get supercharged results. These 8 steps are the principles that move teams into supercharged mode. Follow these steps and accelerate your team to high performance.

1   Executives Send the Right Signals

2   Important Business Results
3   Team Leader as Advocate
4   Operating from a Playbook – Team and Leader
5   Leader Self-Assessment and Team Self-Assessment
6   Select only 2-3 Leverage, Action Points
7   Incorporate into the Execution Plan
8   Additional Leverage Points every 6-9 months

Step 1: Executives Send the Right Signals

All teams observe actions from executives. Executives provide Supercharged Teams with:

  • Resolution of ambiguities and conflicts that are outside team control
  • Specific, candid and constructive feedback
  • Resourcing of the tools needed
  • Personal intervention to remove barriers
  • Recognition for progress, effort, and specific accomplishments
  • Communication of the importance of the team’s goals

Supercharged teams get energized when their executives give them constructive feedback and recognition. People want reinforcement or course correction. I have heard teams express their gratification for constructive input from executives.

Executives who want great results act on these items.

Step 2: Important Business Results

Supercharged teams organize their work around the required results. This is directly linked to an important business objective. The goals must unify the team.

Team goals must be explicitly written. All members can tell you the specific milestones and results that are expected of them jointly. Everything they do is checked against its contribution to results.

Step 3: A Team Leader as Advocate

What does it take to lead a supercharged team?
1)   Be outspoken for the business result
2)   Work out priorities with stakeholders
3)   Capitalize on both their own and member strengths
4)   Learn needed skills, preferably in full view of the team

A team leader must want a Supercharged team, and the team must observe him applying these four actions. As well, team leader actions must deliberately provide the team with exactly what they need to get to results. Leaders of supercharged teams look for what they are actually doing to support or hinder their teams in getting results -- how their leadership practices impact the team.

In selecting a team leader, considering factors such as the expertise, seniority, organizational level, and functional organization are useful. However, if you want supercharged performance, screen leaders for the character traits above. If you have a team leader who doesn’t fulfill these criteria, and you want supercharged performance – help them learn new skills or replace them!

Step 4: Operating from a Playbook

Supercharged Teams operate from a Playbook. In speaking with anyone on the team, all offer the same view of how the team operates. In ordinary teams, the playbook just happens. In Supercharged Teams, the playbook is established by the team leader.

In shifting a team into supercharged mode, the playbook must be explicit. You wouldn’t think to run a major project without a project plan. Providing the Team Leader and team with a set of high-performing practices makes developing their playbook easier. The best playbooks are behavioral – they list specific actions and practices.

Executives and leaders are often looking for profound answers to supercharge their teams. We have been surprised by how often the plays that people know well but don’t employ are the ones that supercharge teams. They seem so obvious after they are identified. More often than not, the ‘ah-has!’ are the practices Team Leaders just forgot about. This makes the playbook powerful because it surfaces practices that could be forgotten.

Some high performance practices from the playbook for team leaders that have shifted teams to supercharged performance are:

  • Ask team members if they have what they need to meet their deliverables.
  • Stimulate diverse views on complex issues.
  • Engage the team to find ways to deliver results beyond what is requested.

Step 5: Leader Self-Assessment / Team Self-Assessment

The Team Leader’s behaviors set the stage for overall team performance. Experience says the team actions mirror leader’s actions. Supercharged Team Leaders look at themselves, and candidly appraise their leadership.

What is the leader assessing:
1) How well is the team operating from its playbook?
2) What am I doing to support / inhibit playbook practices?
3) How am I utilizing the team’s strengths?
4) Where is the team less effective? What actions can I take so the team gets better results?

A vital element of a Supercharged Team is the leader’s knowledge of where to focus his efforts. This may include learning some new things or simply adding practices.

To accelerate performance, the leader and team, together, look at team behaviors to gain a useful picture of what is actually occurring. Armed with this information -

  • Team Leader can see what is missing
  • The team sees it too, so the team can quickly align on what to change.

An example, - In the area of Team Communications, one team’s findings revealed the following:

Strengths

  • Members ask questions to clarify goal, role and task.
  • Team members seek diverse views.
  • Team implements new ideas proposed by members to improve results.

You can see where this assessment identified strengths that the Team Leader modeled and reinforced. At the same time, gaps were identified:

Gaps

  • While they discuss individual perspectives, they continue to argue and conflicts go unresolved.
  • There are no specific meeting agendas, including meeting goals linked to overall team goals, sent to all members of the team prior to meetings.

It is not always easy for leaders to see themselves, or to see specifically what the team needs. There are several places to look to for help. A coach or mentor can give an unbiased perspective, but perhaps an incomplete view. Assessment using a set of practices from Supercharged Teams provides a full and complete picture.

Step 6: Select 2-3 Leverage Points

Teams that shift from low or standard performance to supercharged performance don't try to use every practice or get everything right. They identify a few key leverage points:

  • Behaviors that impact the team's ability to accelerate results the most.
  • Behaviors where they can use existing strengths. (Gallup research has shown that when we use strengths to improve rather than focusing on weaknesses, we get results much faster.)

Leverage points differ for every team because every team has a different profile. Finding leverage points is not generic; it is tailored for each team at a particular point in time. Leading the team to find those leverage points is a key team leader role.

Example of Leverage Points (following the Playbook example above)

The leader was enthusiastic when he told us that without this assessment, he would not have thought to:

  • Distribute agendas with meeting goals linked to overall team goals.
  • Keep the team focused on strategic initiatives, and away from arguing about tactics.
  • Organize and lead team conversations so everything discussed was considered against its contribution to the business results.

To decide on these leverage point, they looked at what was blocking their ability to meet goals: their conflict, unfocused meetings, loss of sight of the business goal. For each meeting, the leader set meeting outcomes linked to team goals. He used the team's strength in communication to keep them focused on achieving meeting outcomes.

While these may seem simple and obvious, with all of the complex business issues, they were not things that he thought to do. This Team Leader told us that prior to finding the leverage points, he could not figure out how to shift the team to strategic initiatives from tactical ones. These leverage points did it! This team is tracking at a 50% revenue increase in the first year.

A team and leader choose the few things that will most impact achieving goals from a combination of their strengths and gaps. Once they link strengths and gaps, they look at which practices will help them meet their goals the quickest.

Step 7: Incorporate into Action Plan

Supercharged Teams link getting the job done to how they operate. The action plan incorporates both leverage points and project plan, with team and leader accountabilities for both.

When a team creates a plan, and all agree to it, you find them individually accountable to meeting their plan deadlines and deliverables, as well as instituting agreed upon new practices.

Step 8: Additional Leverage Points every 6-9 months

Supercharged Teams master their leverage points in 6 months. They like being supercharged and want to stay energized. However, once milestones are achieved, it is difficult to keep up high energy.

The Team Leader's job is to make sure the team stays energized. After the team accomplishes a set of leverage points, they look for the next 3 things that will re-energize them, get them to a higher level.

By reassessing, teams can identify new leverage points. This is an opportunity to update their action plan with different leverage points, and renew the energy to continue high performance.

Tools to Assist Supercharging Your Teams

In 2002, after looking for team tools that were validated against business results, I found very few. Therefore, I undertook a project with a 'Guiding Question:' What can leaders do to shift teams into a Supercharged mode and get the results required? This project led to the development of the Rapid Results System , a set of team tools that achieve supercharged business results. Some of the tools include:

  1. A set of behavior-based practices that produce Supercharged performance, for both team leaders and teams.
  2. Internet-based instrument for profiling leaders and teams against these Supercharged performance practices.
  3. A guidebook for identifying leverage points, and creating and executing a self-managed plan to accelerate achievement of timelines and business results. This step-by-step guide helps the team reveal strengths, opportunities, and leverage points, as well as develop an action plan.
  4. A manual for coaching team leaders with steps to identify the leader's practices that support or hinder the team's ability to meet or exceed goals.
  5. For newly formed teams, there is a Team Start-Up Kit - a set of workbooks to prepare for and use in meetings to guide the team in the use of high performance practices.
A Team Result

A branch of an international financial services company was not meeting goals. A new leader was appointed to turn this group around. After he worked with the team for 6 months, the team began to show some improvement.

Then they used this approach and tools. This branch team used their strength in open communication to create forums where constructive feedback is offered to new team members. New hires were trained and working directly with clients within 2 months, previously a 12-month process.

The team leader found a leverage point for his communication. Prior to using this system, he was not speaking up - not contributing his perspective. Now, he does and people that avoided making decisions do so quickly. This enabled the team to create and execute a new customer-centric business model within 7 weeks of using this approach.

In Summary

Teams get supercharged performance when certain elements are in place -

  • Executives give teams the resources to support their ability to meet or exceed goals.
  • The team leader is an advocate for Supercharging the team.
  • The team is organized around delivering on their goals.
  • The team leader and team are looking for a performance edge and want to identify that edge quickly.
  • The team focuses on only 2-3 changes.
  • Team integrates changes into the team's overall action plan.

The ability to accurately self-assess themselves against high performance practices and establish integrated action/operational plans creates a completely new way for teams and team leaders to Supercharge their results.

Wendy Blumenstein is Principal of Momentum Partners, LLC. The firm provides the Rapid Results System and the High Performance Practices Survey. Her work focuses on accelerating business results for companies throughout the world, in business consulting, and through coaching leaders, teams and work groups across several industries. She has created custom tools to support achievement of bottom-line results. For more information, contact her at 215-794-4380 or wendy.blumenstein@comcast.net.

©2004 Innovate LLC (all rights reserved)

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