It’s been a long, fantastic, exhausting day. I am sitting down to write and the ideas aren’t flowing so I asked my 8 year old daughter what she thought I should write about. She said “you need to write about how to start a good team.”  That seemed like a pretty good idea to me, so here you have it.

WAIT! Don’t tune out just because you’re on an established team.  Instead, check to see if you have clarity on these points.  If not, give yourself a do-over.

What is your unique value?

Start by defining why your team exists. I know this seems ridiculously simple, but it’s the hardest question I ever ask a team—it usually takes 2 to 3 hours of facilitated time to get them to a good answer. The useful answer isn’t just a regurgitation of your departmental strategy; nor is it a laundry list of all the tasks that you each have to accomplish as individuals.  If you can clearly articulate your unique value as a team you will have the cornerstone of high performance in place.  To help you, I created a guide on Creating Team Alignment.

What will it take to deliver?

Translate your purpose into a set of guiding principles.  Once you know what your team exists to do, what systems, processes, and behaviors will allow you to deliver on that mandate? If you’re supposed to be cranking out innovation, how will you foster diverse ideas? If you’re presiding over a mature business managing decline, how will you let go of old ways and be open to new ones? Basically, what will you have to be good at as a team for you to deliver?

Who are you and what do you need?

Get to know the people as people.  It is critical to know the purpose of your team, and that’s why I encourage you to ask those questions first. But once you have locked in on your purpose, it’s incredibly valueable to accelerate trust by getting to know how your teammates are wired. Use a style tool, preferably one with a little oomph in it (you know I’m a huge fan of the Birkman® Method), and find out what you each bring to the table, what you need from each other to be at your best, and what to expect when you’re in stress.  Understanding goes a long way to preventing friction.  Also, watch for perspectives that are missing from your team.  If you have a void in a particular style, you’ll know what you need to hardwire with processes and systems.

How will we disagree?

Contract with each other about conflict. If there’s one more thing you should do right from the outset, it’s have a really open conversation about how you want to approach conflict.  Set the norms around decorum (good), disagreement (better), and back-channel discussions (bad).  Talk about how you’re going to handle uncomfortable discussion and interpersonal tension.   That way, when conflict inevitably comes up, you’ll be ready—with your Geneva Convention* already in place.

If I was starting a new team, this would be where I would invest to get the team to high performance much more quickly than normal.  If you’re interested, we have a handy-dandy Knightsbridge one-day program for new teams.  You can learn more about it here.

*Fun Fact: The Geneva Conventions refer to the four treaties and three protocols that govern the humanitarian standards of war. Their origin traces back to Swiss activist Henry Dunant whose visits to the battlefield during the Battle of Solferino in 1859 inspired him to write a book that proposed two things: a humanitarian relief agency; and a treaty of neutrality that allowed the agency to provide services during war.  The result was two of the most important institutions of modern war—The Geneva Conventions and the Red Cross.  If your team creates your own version of the former, hopefully you won’t need the latter!

Further Reading

You Get the Team you Deserve

Want High Performance? Get Comfortable being Uncomfortable

Mistakes Team Leaders Make: Tolerating Poor Performance

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