It’s interesting that when I have discussions around teams benchmarking themselves against the desired behaviours and processes associated with true high-performance teams, then the discussion, virtually without fail, turns to whether these surveys or questionnaires are anonymous. I do find it strange that even when speaking to team managers whose teams have hit their goals, targets, or objectives, (and they think themselves as high performing) that they usually ask as to whether the benchmarking process will be totally anonymous. When you probe as to why they would want them to be anonymous (considering they consider the team to be a high-performance team), they inevitably reply that the quality of responses will be more honest and authentic. So, are they saying the team members do not feel comfortable in being open and honest if their name is attributed to the responses? The answer to this is usually ‘Yes’. So, why is this the case if they claim that their team is a high-performance team? Surely a major attribute of a high-performance team is that all the team members feel comfortable in being open and honest about what is happening in the team, and no one is afraid to highlight inappropriate or ineffective practices?
So, already we have identified a ‘gap’ in the team’s processes and behaviours. If they are to be a true high-performance team, then everyone should have the confidence to highlight what is going right and perhaps, wrong, in the team. And they should not have to wait until a team assessment questionnaire or benchmarking process comes along every so often to highlight the 'rights' and the 'wrongs'. As it happens very few team managers actually even think about doing such an assessment and as a result, if the team members are not comfortable in being open about what is happening in the team, then cliques start to appear and the ‘rumbles’ behind email and voicemail, grow, along with the inevitable ‘corridor conferences’ at physical meetings.
I’d also like to challenge the perception in many managers’ minds, that by simply hitting the team goals and targets, their team is a high-performance team. We’ve already discussed above that if the team need to anonymise team assessments, then perhaps the team isn’t truly high performing, but, whilst it is great that the team have hits its goals and targets, are they, (as a result of having some ‘gaps’ in high performance attributes) actually underperforming as regards their true potential? Could they actually deliver more and exceed the goals and targets being set? I wonder how many teams actually devise their own goals and targets as opposed to simply accepting them from senior leadership? What if a team worked on, and set their targets from the ‘bottom-up’ and these targets actually were greater than those set by the company? You would expect a true high-performance team to say, “We believe we can achieve our targets, so we’ll take these as our measure.”. I wonder how many would be brave enough to do this.
Here’s a true story. I was a sales manager in a team of 7. There was myself and 6 sales executives. Historically, our team sales targets were sent down by Head Office and whilst there was a bit of 'trading' between teams, there was very little leeway as regards changing the targets. One year, we decided (as we were an experienced team) to work on our own projections and each sales executive did a through analysis as to what they thought they could achieve in the forthcoming financial year. There was a great level of debate and eventually we came to agreements as to what each sales executive could deliver. We then compared this with the sales target sent down by Head Office. We had predicated that we would exceed that target by 10%! We then had the debate as to whether we should go back to Head Office and highlight that we could take more target but as there was no extra bonus for being 110% over target it was agreed by the team, that to be on the safe side and ensure we hit the 100% to achieve bonus we would stick to the Head Office target. I was hoping that we would actually hit the 110% (and I’m convinced we would hit this aspirational target, given the skill, knowledge, and dedication of the team members) but in reality, we only hit 101%. I am convinced that the team actually underperformed against their potential, but the company saw us a high-performance team based on their criteria. It was good to be applauded but I always felt that we were the equivalent of the athlete who was wining their races but never achieving regular personal bests.
So, two messages from this blog for team managers and leaders.
If you think you are a high-performance team then ask yourself two basic questions:
1. If you were to benchmark and seek individual responses from each team member, would the team wish these to be anonymous? If so, ask why?
2. Is your team really fulfilling their full potential – or simply just doing enough to get by? Can you go beyond your agreed targets and truly excel?
Don't just assume that if you are hitting centrally generated targets you are a true high performance team. Look at your 'gaps' as a team, put the team development plan in place and 'raise the bar' on what the team can truly achieve. Be trailblazers!