Chris Cracknell & Richard Brady
Is your team working together as well as it could be? You can broadly evaluate team performance by looking at the numbers, but there’s more to success than organizational – or even some individual – performance metrics. Leaders also want to know how they can enhance their teams to solve problems and add value.
Leadership matters, and good leaders build teams that collaborate well. The challenge is in knowing how to give them the best opportunity to work cohesively and consistently to achieve strategic goals.
For leaders to generate better results they must come to understand team dynamics and find ways to improve the factors that influence them. This goes well beyond the annual team building activities set up for the company and will walk through step-by-step on what approaches you can take to improve your team’s constantly changing dynamics.
Recent Challenges to Team Dynamics
Before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations operated in a relatively calm space. Change was gradual. Managers could predict and plan for the future with relative certainty and few anticipated any major upheaval. Providing the right environment was much simpler.
The last 18 months have radically changed the way we work. Some companies and industries have responded well to the new world of home working and digital communications. Many others, however, have found it incredibly difficult. Industries and teams that rely heavily on collaboration have struggled to achieve
the same outputs through computer screens as they would working face to face.
This shakeup of the workplace has threatened the very fabric of teams. Work and home life lines have been blurred and there are new communications channels to contend with. The future looks set to balance collaboration in the office with days spent at home, and leaders and teams alike are required to make sense of this hybrid working model.
It was already challenging enough to retain and lead good teams that work well together, but the pandemic brought about profound and instantaneous change. Established norms have been replaced by new challenges and opportunities. The key for leaders is to manage this change, making sure that their people are set up to succeed.
Steps Leaders Can Take to Improve Team Performance
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple formula for improving team performance. Prevalent theories include Bruce Wayne Tuckman’s ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’
approach to group development. This speaks to the formation of teams as they grow to reach their full potential, but its introduction of necessary conflict can be counterproductive.
Recent times have also seen a shift away from ‘command and control’ leadership styles towards a more liberal stance that encourages innovation. Some organizations have replaced uniforms and desk hours with table tennis and breakout areas, while others find that a traditional environment serves them better.
Different organizations and employees will respond in their own ways to the ‘new normal’. There are, however, some common steps that may help to steady the ship and improve performance post-COVID.
- Focus on Beating Competitors, Not Colleagues
Many organizations believe that competition within teams will drive better results. This ultimately results in distracted teams. It prevents them from taking the steps needed to outperform their organization’s market competitors since they’re focused on beating each other.
Competition can motivate individuals to work smarter and harder to perform better, but too much internal pressure can elicit feelings of concern and anxiety. Constant competition between colleagues can also encourage selfish behaviors that are not conducive to effective teamwork.
If you win inside an organization but not in the marketplace, you still lose in the bigger picture. Managers should therefore avoid pitting colleagues against each other and instead reward group performance that pushes their organization closer to achieving its goals.
- Reward Input Rather than Output
Leaders often talk about the behaviors that they want to see. For example: taking initiative, providing excellent customer service, communicating openly, and leveling up their skills. These are all useful drivers of organizational success, yet individuals are usually rewarded based on financial outcomes alone.
Most organizations fail to see the correlation between reward and strategy, recognizing and remunerating things that are short-term and easily measured. When financial accomplishment is the only metric that’s rewarded, it becomes the sole focus of teams and individuals.
According to Adams’ Equity Theory there should be a balance between input and output, or effort and reward. The theory is built around the belief that employees become demotivated if they feel they are putting in significantly more than they get out. This can cause them to respond with reduced effort, apathy, and even disruptive behaviors. To avoid this, Adams’ suggests hard work, skill, and enthusiasm should be fairly matched with outputs including salary, benefits, and recognition.
Applying this approach, leaders can improve team performance by rewarding the behaviors they want to see and that serve their organizational objectives. Financial success can then follow from that foundation.
- Use Tools to Measure and Understand Teams
Leaders of successful organizations understand that there are many performance metrics to be tracked and rewarded. Fortunately, there are now tools to measure the performance of teams and the impact they make.
Network Centrality® is a tool that can be used to understand and transform the processes and behaviors that drive success. It provides a real visual portrayal of how teams work in practice. It acts as a diagnostic tool to measure interactions between employees, develop talent, and optimize programs across all office branches.
Armed with new insights, leaders can align their rewards structures with wider strategies to improve collaboration and other behaviors that affect success rates.
- Set a Clear and Elevating Goal
Outside of rewards structures, teams also need direction to be successful. In their 2001 study, Larson and LaFasto outlined the most important factor for the success of high-performing team members: a clear and elevating goal.
Groups and individuals work most productively when they understand what they are working towards. Crucially, goals must not only be crystal clear but also inspiring. When people feel that a vision is worthwhile, they are more likely to pursue and bring it into being.
Leaders can improve performance by creating detailed objectives that motivate people to focus their efforts and reward behaviors that further those objectives.
Measure and Improve Team Performance with Network Centrality®
The world of work has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are now even more stressors that can thwart organizational success and it is hard to predict what the future may hold. By learning who your promoters and detractors are within your teams, you can identify outliers, influencers, and leaders and act accordingly.
To succeed in this challenging climate, leaders must focus on teamwork and their input, use tools to boost understanding, and unite their people behind compelling goals. Tools such as Network Centrality
can then help them to measure, reward, and leverage key aspects of team performance to bring those objectives into being. With a focus on the metrics that most clearly support a vision it’s possible to build altogether stronger, more cohesive teams.