Managing High Performing teams

I have hired Technology talent and managed teams for more than a decade, I have had my own share of “learnings” and seen teams fail and succeed in organisations of all shapes and sizes. This article is a combination of what I personally learnt as well as thought leaders and consulting companies who have been discussing the topics for decades.It contains recommendations on some common themes and proven characteristics of highly successful performant teams.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Hiring people

This boils down to identification of the right talent for the job — which goes beyond the resume. Someone looked good on paper — but could not work with the team or someone who looked average turned out to be an excellent team player and went on to lead the team after a few years of polishing. Although these decisions are sometimes influenced by your project requirements and timelines, what I generally found is hiring based on attitude, potential, passion and ability to solve problems is more important in the long run than knowing a specific piece of technology. Skills can be taught and in the tech world they are constantly changing anyways.

Have an Inspiring and shared purpose

Set direction for the team by establishing clear vision and mission for your organisation or enterprise project. As a leader — one of the most important communication you do with your teams is the long term mission and vision for your project / organisation / strategic initiative. Ensure that they are aligned with the project, ask clarifying and probing questions without fear and eventually (and hopefully) buy into committing to it. This shared purpose will be eventually broken down into a plan with important milestones which will need to be communicated often in the light of changing business needs.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” — Andrew Carnegie

Set Trust and clear expectations for their role.

Trust — difficult to earn and easy to lose. Listen a lot as a leader with empathy as team comes together in the initial stages. Create a relationship of openness and trust between team and leaders as well facilitate trust building between the individual team members. As a group which work together , the trust and shared purpose which will keep the team together when the going gets tough.

Make sure each member of your team understand their role in the bigger scheme of things (big picture) and how they contribute towards the organisational goals. Make their work purposeful and inspire them with constant communication about the values and the shared purpose why they are together.

Develop clear measure of success

Develop clear and unambiguous measures of success for your team. Ensure the KPI’s are clearly stated and everyone understand what collective success would mean and how it translates into achieving the objectives for the organisation. Motivate the team by setting additional KPIs around their own individual performances and contributions.

Promote a culture of openness and building together

The collective wisdom of an enterprise team helps solve complex organisational problems and furthers strategic initiatives to propel the organisation to greater heights as opposed to brilliant individuals who can only go so far. Create a culture where people can openly ask questions, explore options and question the status quo in a curious manner without demeaning the ”existing process and culture”. Also communicate and make the team aware about the culture of decision making within the organisation.

Source: Insead

Promote collaboration

Source: Dilbert / Pinterest

It is natural that as teams grow bigger there is a tendency to be subdivided into groups and silos which may have negative impact when it comes to collaborating on projects. As a leader — be prepared to clarify , prioritise and remind teams of the bigger picture and the “power of collaboration” for a shared purpose. Ensure knowledge is shared, documented and not hoarded. Ensure a culture where experienced members share it freely with the newcomers. If the team has developed the attitude to work towards a common goal — they will work together in a collaborative fashion to get things completed for the “shared purpose” than individual “projects”

Promote autonomy within your team.

Empower your team with the right tools, process and rules to be capable of making their own decisions(within clearly communicated boundaries). Provide them safety to be able to take calculated risks and think differently. Recognise that individuals and teams have different ways of solving the same problem. when conflicts and discrepancies arise — step in and use a coaching style to guide members in the right direction. The ultimate goal is for the team to be independent, self organising and self managing. In the early days you have to nudge and steer the team in the right direction to let it all come together.

Emphasize on Results

Ensure that the team focuses on the process and the eventual results of what they are trying to accomplish. Create a result oriented culture so each team member is focused on achieving team milestones instead of individual ones.Make sure the KPI’s for both success and failure are both aligned and defined before the projects and everyone is kept aware if there is any expectation change in between.

Recognize your team

Celebrate team success — not matter how small. Recognise contributors — acknowledge and praise them in the group. Provide feedback for mistakes(learnings) in private.Ensure there is constant communication (at every milestone) to let the team know that their contribution is appreciated.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” — Margaret Mead

Develop the team

Motivating people — To build their capabilities and unleash the full potential, ensure you pay people well , utilise their skills and experience, challenge them with work which allows room for growth, have them focus on quality with speed facilitated by an environment which keeps communication open and honest to keep the team together. Always promote their growth, provide training and a good work-life balance so the team is well rounded and not burnt out.

Continuous Improvements — Ensure that the team inspect and adapts at regular intervals to improve how they work and perform using the retrospective meeting which will help the team come up with ideas and action items for improvement leading to high performance over a period of time.

Leadership expectations:

As a leader you are responsible for how the team eventually turns out to be. Hence you should help the team specially in its early days to align and improve as it passes through some of the stages of formation.

Every Leader should be aware and recognise the four stages of team reaching optimal performance:

Source: Tuckman

As a leader — your journey is all about creating the right environment and culture for your team to thrive in the ups and downs of some of the early stages, provide a shared purpose with clear expectations around role and results. When required — step in as a coach to nudge the members or the team in the direction which positively influences the attainment of the organisational goals.

Source: EvansIncorporated

Summary

It all begins by recruiting the right people. Bring people better than you or with the right attitude and potential. Go for formal education and career experiences, but focus on: values, passion, and high potential to grow in the company. Create a multidisciplinary, multicultural, diverse team. Give priority and promote internal talent.

All leaders want the most talented people working for them, but talent alone can’t carry an organisation. Leaders must provide oversight and direction to ensure employees are engaged, motivated, and challenged on a daily basis. Most of all, they must harness talent effectively by putting people in roles that align them — and the organisation — for long-term success.


Altaf Rehmani is a Technology Innovator, helping various businesses with Digital transformation Projects, Agile Evangelist and a champion of applying technology to enable business growth. An avid data science and serverless fan — He lives in Hong Kong and can be reached via email or twitter. Please leave your feedback and a clap if you have liked this article.

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