High-Performing Teams Aren't Built in a Day

Have you ever thought that if your team could just take time for a retreat or training and “put everything out on the table,” you could clear 95% of your team’s issues and leave the room ready to perform? If so, you’re not alone. I have spoken to dozens of leaders over the years looking for someone to facilitate a transformative session.

What I have learned: in most cases, teams are not ready for this type of intervention - it often does more harm than good. So what are you supposed to do about it? And what if you don’t have a budget for a more comprehensive team development approach? In this article, I outline not only the issues with low or misaligned investment in creating high-performing teams, but also offer new ways for you to think about how to approach this more strategically in order to grow your business.

What makes a team high-performing?

I really appreciate the way Ginger Lapid-Bogda describes this in Transform Your Team with the Enneagram. High-performing teams are:

Aligned - they understand and agree on vision, goals, and plans. Essentially, they know where they are going and why it matters.

Attuned - they feel connected to other team members, are responsive to their needs, and care about one another.

Accelerating - they know what they are doing, are each personally motivated to get there, and are ready to make adjustments to accommodate environmental and team obstacles.

Does this sound like an out-of-reach state for your team? It is not easy to achieve, but the results from investing in creating this type of team are incredible. These are the types of teams that succeed against all odds, no matter what is happening in the economy.

The link between investment and results

Why do leaders continue to expect low investment, immediate results, or both, in their quest for high-performing teams? A few thoughts on this:

A lot of information online suggests there are a few tweaks leaders can make to rapidly improve their effectiveness. However, it is worth remembering that search engines deliver the articles that offer the fastest gratification from reading - the articles that are the most “liked” and “shared,” and that this is often not a reliable predictor of business impact.

In addition, many leaders gauge the success of their training investments on immediate attendee sentiment, rather than taking the time to define and measure long-term, aligned business impact. If you measure results this way, then programs that feel fun and safe will appear to be the best, versus programs that create higher self-awareness and leadership skills (which are often not as “fun” as they are emotionally difficult and require hard work).

Pitfalls and possibilities of “one and done” training

Here are a few examples drawn from my experience working with leaders who want to build high-performing teams through a “quick, high impact” team experience that illustrate the complexity involved in creating a high-performing team.

Case Study A:

“Sherry” approached us asking for a leadership retreat for her team. She had previously experienced a personally transformative retreat experience and felt this could translate to her semi-annual in-person leadership team gathering. Based on Sherry’s assessment of her team dynamics, we facilitated the retreat. However, it did not produce the intended results. The team was reluctant to be vulnerable, open, and honest. Too many of the building blocks were missing. Sherry had significantly underestimated the level of psychological safety among the leadership team, her level of self awareness was too low, and there was no clear vision around which the team could coalesce. In order to re-create this retreat successfully, it would have been necessary for Sherry to commit to developing a very different team dynamic, beginning with her own self awareness.

Case Study B:

“Greg” was the leader of a team that was overall close-knit and friendly. He asked us to create training based on a personality assessment the entire team would take. Greg expected the training to produce some interesting insights, and overall serve as a lighthearted team bonding experience. The actual result was that the team’s willingness to show up open and honest felt like an attack to Greg, who had not considered that his level of self awareness might actually be lower than that of his teammates, and that he might receive honest feedback about himself that he wasn’t ready to hear. In this case, had Greg invested in some coaching and feedback prior to the meeting, it may have gone very differently.

Despite the pitfalls explained in these case studies, it is not impossible to get quick results from a team training. However, the likelihood of that happening is extremely low if many success components are not already in place ahead of the training.

Always start with strategy

Before engaging in any leadership development effort, it is extremely important to understand how you expect the investment to impact key business results. Doing this right is expensive not only in terms of money, but in terms of the time and energy of your leaders.

Transforming the way a team works together is no different than any other major business transformation: it requires advance planning, adequate time for rollout, assessment of impact, and ongoing maintenance. Leaders who are not used to investing in their teams in this way may find this uncovers the need for a mindset change, and some strategic re-thinking about the overall ROI of all their growth investments.

Here’s what you might expect when endeavoring to build a high performing team:

In most companies I have worked with, it is necessary to begin with several months (minimum) of coaching for the CEO or key team leader, including a 360 feedback collection exercise. I really can’t emphasize enough the importance of a potential high-performing team leader investing time and energy in their own self awareness, and creating trust and safety on the team. If they are too authoritative or impatient, move too fast without team buy-in, or are not open to receiving feedback, they will continually undermine their team’s potential. The same goes for leaders who are the opposite - those who seem to continually waver in their vision, take too long to make decisions, or let feedback impact them and their day-to-day actions too much.

Sometimes, individual coaching for several team members is the second step. There are also typically team dynamics to navigate before the group can begin training together. I have worked with several companies who have chosen to invest this way, and when the groundwork is laid, the experience of the team when it comes together for group leadership development is far more impactful.

Finally, you should expect to develop a long-term plan for ongoing coaching and training as your company (and the world) changes, leaders take on new roles, teams change, and people come and go.

Take the next step

Leadership development is big business - but not many leadership development investments yield significant results. Leaders choose to work with Glowe because we are passionate about human-centered programs that are highly aligned with business results. In other words: we want these investments to create real transformation. Ready to think big about what this could mean for your company? Contact us today.

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