Written by Grant Tate
Fall football season is under way. Turn on the TV and you can get an eyeful of top-notch teams in action. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you have to admire the spectacle of highly trained professionals reaching for a common goal.
Would it be as entertaining to watch your business teams on TV. Could we tell what was going on? Or would we have to ask ourselves, “What the heck are they doing?” We’d probably have to watch a long time to figure out the team’s objectives, the rules of the game, the strategy, and the plays. Is the team winning or losing? I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the team members wouldn’t know either.
These days, we spend a lot of time talking about teams. Team-building has become a major component of company training programs. Yet, a lot of these courses concentrate on abstract ideas such as “balancing complementary skills, problem solving, overcoming diversity, and discipline structures.” (Can you see the Atlanta Braves sitting in such a class?) Such programs do not help business teams meet their SPECIFIC goals. To reach top performance, teams must train to do their particular task. That means that effective training takes place on-the-job, not in a classroom. So, how can you develop a high performance team?
Select the right cast of players
Choose your players for their individual strengths, their ability to learn, and their capacity to play on the squad–and cast them in the right roles. While it’s not exactly true that no team is stronger than its weakest link, a weak performer will sap energy from other players.
Set clear, unambiguous, measurable goals
Look at any high-performance group and you’ll find that every member knows exactly what the team is supposed to do. Goal accomplishment is the sole reason for a team’s existence. A team with an ambiguous goal is no team at all.
Train players for top individual skills
People who announce football games often talk of “getting back to the basics of blocking and tackling.” They’re talking about individual skills. Your players must be top performers in their particular roles. So give them the opportunity to hone their skills. Also, you should consider cross-training so that every position has a back-up.
Set high performance standards and keep score
Most companies have elaborate performance plans for individual employees, but few firms apply similar efforts to teams. Your team will need to know what is expected and how performance will be measured. So, craft a clear performance plan for the group.
Develop winning strategies
Build on your team’s core strengths to design winning strategies. Ask: What are our alternatives? What are the specific paths to success? What approaches will help us win against our competition, for instance by providing better service or quicker turn-a-round?
Practice the plays
Your group must learn to work as one unit. Surgical teams rehearse their procedures to perfection. Fire and rescue units practice life-saving techniques. Business teams need practice, too. List the tasks that your unit must accomplish, work out the procedures, then practice, practice, practice.
In sports, a scrimmage is a simulation of a real game. We can also run scrimmages in our organizations. Starting a restaurant? Run a series of pilot tests with invited guests so that you can check out procedures and standards. Use real situations and customers so that you can get good feedback.
Analyze the game
Whether you are running scrimmage or playing a real game, hold a group meeting to analyze the results and how the game was played. Do this whether you won or lost. What worked? What did not work? How can we improve our performance? What did we learn from the game? How did the competition perform?
A good team is continually striving for perfection. A perfect season is not good enough because a team that does not improve will be eventually over run by the competition. The old saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is the swan song of a dying organization.
Continual improvement requires positive attitudes. Help your team learn to look squarely at team and individual performance so that members help each other do a better job. Gossip and negative criticism have no place in high-performance teams. As leader you will set the tone for positive attitudes.
A top notch team plays hard, but also plays fairly. Members of such a team develop mutual respect and gain the respect of their competition and supporters.
Reward team performance
With a good performance and measurement plan, you’ll be able to judge superior performance.
Following these guidelines may not get your team on television or win you a pennant; but you’ll have a good chance of getting more satisfaction from your hard work.