We are in an era of unprecedented change. So much so that they’ve come up with a name for it: VUCA. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
What many business leaders are discovering is that in a world where much of what we do consists of “figuring it out,”, the only way to succeed is through the use of teams.
There’s plenty of evidence that teams produce higher-quality work and solve problems faster than the traditional hierarchical model we’ve been operating under for the past 100 years.
This might surprise you, but we are only just beginning to learn how to best operate as teams. And to make matters even more difficult, we’ve got other factors complicating the issue like several generations working together for the first time in history, and more and more teams made up of global, virtual and freelance workers.
Join us for the next 12 minutes as we explore how to build a company of teams that thrives in this new reality we find ourselves in.
The soft stuff is the hard stuff
A few years ago, Google did a research study on their teams called Project Aristotle. They wanted to know why some of their teams were more productive and innovative than the others.
Google found that the top performing teams had members that would say the following:
- They felt psychologically safe, which means they felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable and take risks.
- They trusted their team members to be dependable.
- They had clear team structure and clarity around goals and plans.
- They found personal meaning in their work.
- They believed their work was making a difference in the world.
You’ll notice that all of those things are, like the authors suggest – goose-down soft.
So, if you want the benefits of high performing teams, including faster and better decision making, the soft stuff is where you need to focus.
In particular, you’ll need to focus on the 5 disciplines of team leaders, which we’ll work through one by one.
Discipline 1: Understanding Generations
We’ve never had so many different generations in the workplace at one time. Particularly important in this reality is that Millennials are now the largest generation, accounting for over half of all employees worldwide.
It’s critical to understand the differences between them and the rest of the workforce, because, well, there are differences.
Keep in mind that these differences are real, whether you approve of them or not. If you find yourself shaking your head and mumbling “kids these days,” pay extra close attention for the next couple of minutes.
For previous generations, autonomy was a major motivating factor when it comes to work. However, it’s near the bottom of the list of motivators for most younger workers.
This means that when you are managing Millenials you’ll want to focus more on coaching and direction than you ever have before.
Adopt simple rituals of recognition
In teams where employees feel regularly recognized for their work, productivity, performance and engagement is 14% higher. Millennial employees are much more strongly motivated by recognition for their work than any other generation that came before it. They are twice as likely to be motivated by it than Gen X, and three-and-half times more likely to be motivated by it than Baby Boomers.
Here are some things you can do to nurture them along:
- applaud attempts as well as results;
- do it as close to the event as possible;
- do it at least once per week;
- be specific in your praise;
- reinforce key values when you do it;
- formally celebrate significant outcomes;
- tell a story if possible.
Institute transparency about collective team challenges.
Make sure you are very clear about team goals, involve your team in decision making, and give them avenues to voice their ideas or concerns.
Foster directly relevant learning and career development
Younger team members want to know that they are being developed. Make sure that you are giving them opportunities for training and mentoring as they develop along their career path.
Clearly articulate the meaning of their work
This one is important for all groups. Believing in a cause bigger than themselves will motivate team members to push themselves harder, and also make them more likely to spend time mentoring others.
Discipline 2: Manage to the One
As the authors point out, lack of career development has become the number one reason why employees leave organizations. Compare this with previous years where the number one reason was pay, and you’ll start to appreciate the importance of the issue.
The good news is that focusing on career development is a low-cost way to keep your team engaged, and it’s well within your control.
The trick, the authors point out, is to personalize the responsibilities of each team member based on their individual drivers. They call it “job sculpting.”
Learn their story
You can learn a lot from people who need to get more out of less. Once such individual is John Pray, the CEO of the nonprofit Operation Homefront.
Here’s what he says about the power of learning the story of your team members:
“I can’t pay people what they may be worth in the private sector, so I have to find other ways to engage my team members…By learning their story, I find out what they are proud of, and get an understanding of their aspirations.”
He does this for all 120 of his people, which means you can do it too. Once you learn what makes your people tick, you can start crafting their job to maximize their talents and engagement levels.
Crafting jobs, one by one
Job crafting is the art of creating a customized career path to help your team do a little more of what they find motivating, and a little less of what they find frustrating.
Sometimes this can mean big changes in responsibilities, but even the smallest of changes make a huge impact over time.
Here are some questions you can ask your team to start getting a sense of how you could do this:
- What activities do you look forward to doing most at work?
- Why do they energize you?
- What activities frustrate you?
- Why do the frustrate or demotivate you?
- What are your three wishes for your career?
As you start to consider what changes you might make to their roles, remember that you still need people to work on things that actually need to get done, and that just because somebody wants to do more of something that they are good at it.
You are looking for opportunities at the intersection of what people are great at, what they love to do, and what you need done.
Turning the performance review into the continuous review
There is plenty of research that shows that teams perform at a higher level when all members are confident that their teammates are competent and working at a high level. They are also more confident when they know that the performance of every team member is being evaluated carefully and consistently.
The question isn’t whether or not you should be doing performance reviews, but how often you should be doing them.
Here’s a startling piece of data. A recent study showed that employees who meet with their managers on a weekly basis to discuss progress towards their goals are up to twenty-four times more likely to reach their goals.
So, there’s the answer. Weekly reviews and constant informal check-ins is the way to go.
Performance discussions shouldn’t be confused with aspirational discussions, which are more about career development and learning.
You should do these once every month with your direct reports, and once or twice per year with your skip-level employees (the people who report to the people who report to you).
These conversations don’t need to be long – fifteen to thirty minutes is more than enough.
Here are some suggestions to make sure these conversations go well:
- Prepare before by sending an email to list the things you’d like to cover, and ask them what they’d like to discuss.
- Meet where they prefer (in the cafeteria, go for a walk, etc.), and in-person if possible.
- Set expectations so that they know what to expect.
- Use an individual development plan to guide the meeting (more on this in the next section).
- Eliminate distractions – close your door and silence your phone.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Always end on a positive.
- Follow up after with a quick email recapping the meeting, including any feedback you want them to consider.
Individual development plans
These don’t need to be fancy, and usually one page is sufficient. They should, at a minimum, include the following:
- Strengths the team member would like to use more in the role.
- Their career goals.
- The skills, experience, or education they’ll need to accomplish those goals.
- 3 or so development actions to help them get there, with due dates attached.
Discipline 3: Speed Productivity
Now let’s turn our attention to how we can help new people and new teams work faster and smarter.
Teams today and in the future will be fluid, with people moving between jobs on a regular basis as teams are created and disbanded as required.
One of the most important competencies in this reality is rapidly integrating new people and teams and getting them to perform at a high level as quickly as possible.
The three most important things to making this happen are security, context, and affiliation. We’ll cover these in turn.
When you first join a team, you’ll be wondering whether or not you’ll be valued, do a good job, and be liked. Nothing kills productivity quicker than feeling insecure in your role.
There are a number of things you can do as a leader to ensure that people feel secure in their role on the team, and thus perform at their highest ability:
- Hire for culture fit. Nothing kills teams faster than somebody who doesn’t fit the culture.
- Begin orientation before the start date. Having a document (like the Netflix Culture Deck, for instance) that tells people what the culture is like and how they’ll be expected to act, is a great step in that direction.
- Spend quality time with your new team member on Day 1. Making them feel like you are strongly committed to helping them succeed is your goal.
- Facilitate help/guidance from other team members. Consider assigning a member of the team to be their guide.
You’ve likely seen this quote before by novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
The culture of a team or company is how we behave, and context is how we fit in the world around us.
Specifically in the team context, you’ll want to ensure that the new member understands how the context of the team’s work fits in with the overall work of the company and the specific contributions the team is expected to make.
The third and last key to creating speed-to-productivity is affiliation – helping the team build great relationships with their teammates.
Fascinating studies out of MIT show that the highest performing teams are ones where every member is in frequent contact with every other member. Obviously, to create that type of environment, you need to create a team where people like to communicate with one another.
Here are what the authors call the Laws of Affiliation Building:
- Assign new team members a task that requires them to meet others.
- Arrange non-work outings for the team. As a leader, make it a point to be engaged and present at these outings.
- Facilitate sharing about what people do outside work. The more your team knows about each other’s passions and interests outside work, the more they’ll view each other as human beings worthy of respect.
Discipline 4: Challenge Everything
Much of the work teams are doing these days is “figuring it out,” which means they’ll be called on to generate new and better ways of doing things. This requires you to foster a culture where healthy debate and discord is not only allowed, but expected.
Building off the third discipline, this requires there to be high levels of what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmonson calls psychological safety. She defines it as, “A climate in which the focus can be on productive discussion that enables early prevention of problems and the accomplishment of shared goals because people are less likely to focus on self-protection.”
In high-performing teams you’ll likely to see people speaking up even if they weren’t asked, giving each other tough feedback, all the while respecting each other as human beings.
Here are some ways you can foster this type of culture as a leader:
- Decrease the power distance between you and your team. The more inclusiveness you create, the more your team will be willing to participate and generate ideas.
- Set the rules for debate on your team, and take a turn leading it. Let the best ideas win.
- Publicly ask questions of team members at all levels. Actively seek out diverse opinions.
- Create space for risk-taking and failure.
- Listen to your radicals, who are likely to offer up alternative and unique solutions.
- Track team goals transparently.
Discipline 5: Don’t Forget Your Customers
The final discipline of high performing teams is to have a relentless focus on the customer. There are a number of benefits to ensuring that every team in your company puts the customer in the middle of everything.
For one, it helps adjudicate between opposing views and interests – there’s an external “truth” to be reckoned with. Another benefit is that it creates higher employee engagement by creating clarity around the team’s purpose. Helping customers improve their lives is a much bigger motivator for most people than abstract business gaols.
Here are some ways you can bring the customer to life in your company.
Representing your customer as an actual person will bring them to life for your team. Consider creating customer profiles that include things like age, income, and other needs that are relevant to the service or product you provide. Then, to make it as real as possible, put a face and name to the profile.
Get out into the wild
There is no substitute for getting out into the world and seeing your customers interact with your product or service. For many of your team members, it will be the first time they’ve ever done this, and it will change the way they approach their work, forever.
Map out customer interactions
You can bring the customer experience to life even further by mapping out the customer life-cycle, which most likely begins before they interact with your product or service, and continues after it as well. Understanding the context in which your product and service fits in their life is worth its weight in gold.
So in conclusion, the future includes a heck of a lot more team based work than in the past, and understanding how to utilize the five disciplines of team work will help you compete in this new reality.
You may also like to read:
- The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
- Great Business Teams by Howard Guttman
- First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
- The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile
- Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
- From Impossible To Inevitable by Aaron Ross & Jason Lemkin
- Bringing Out the Best in Others! by Thomas K. Connellan, Ph.D.
- The Culture Game by Daniel Mezick
- The Network Always Wins by Peter Hinssen