Who are High-Performance Team Candidates?
“Everyone is needed, but no one is necessary.” — Bruce Coslet, Coach, Bengals.
I have taken even the worst-performing teams all the way through to High-Performance, but not everyone makes the grade.
Jim Collins in his iconic management book ‘Good to Great said that you need to get the right people on the bus, then the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats and only then do you figure out where to drive it.
The adage ‘People are your most important asset’ is wrong, this is especially true for high-performance. People are not your most important asset; the right people are. In building a High-Performance team, at the outset, you will need to recruit and select people who want to be on your bus — who are truly committed and have bought into you and your program, otherwise, you are just wasting your time. You can follow the steps for building a High-Performance Team but without the right people, you will not achieve it. (Although you will demonstrably improve yourself and your team and perhaps that is enough.)
Collins writes: “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy — these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.” This is true of most High-Performance team managers.
Any manager can build a High-Performance Team, you do not have to be charismatic, a great leader, or the most loved or respected, you can be a quiet, reserved or the best manager out of your peers, provided you are determined — you can do it. Consider the Stockdale Paradox: You must maintain unwavering faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
If you continue to take care of the process of building a successful team the outcome will take care of itself.
Ideal Manager criteria
- Has clear reasons and goals for pursuing high-performance.
- Can transition to a progressive management style.
- Has determination.
- Is prepared to do an honest assessment of their current situation.
- Is optimistic and believe that change is possible.
At the same time, however, Collins insists that you must take an honest look at your current situation. Where are you deficient? What are your weaknesses as a team, as individuals, and as a coach? You must make an in-depth, no-holds-barred assessment of your current situation and look to build from there. Selecting your team members is one of the more difficult things that you need to do, namely an honest assessment of your existing team members and their suitability.
It’s important to know your people. As a manager in an organisation who wants to develop teamwork, you need to have a good understanding of your people. Spending time with them, talking to them, and mentoring them is the way you come to understand what they care for individually; this is how you discover what makes them tick.
The Team Members — the people you want
Rarely will you have the opportunity to create a new team from scratch. The norm is that you inherit an existing team upon which to build, or you have an existing team that you want to upskill. High-Performance Team members need to have particular characteristics and exhibit specific behaviours; it’s quite likely you will not get many if indeed any of these from your people at the outset.
Therefore, you need to build the team to develop the necessary characteristics, some people will excel, and some will not. Those team members who are not making the grade need to be moved to a different position or be managed out. There is no room for them in your team.
Around 20% of team members do not make the grade, but that leaves 80% who do. They respond positively to High-Performance training that recognises their value, provides feedback on performance, is supportive and from which they achieve significant job satisfaction. As the manager, it’s up to you to lead by example, provide the right environment and create the right culture.
Evaluating and selecting Team Members
Evaluating team members is one of the most important things that needs to be done, that is, an honest assessment of existing team members and their suitability for training.
Selecting the right people to be in your team is the most critical decision you will make. The right people are fundamental to the team’s success, and you will be investing time and energy in their development.
Experience shows that given the opportunity to make the grade, almost everyone is successful. A change in your management style combined with a chance for team members to change along with you and their peers motivates people to do amazing things. It doesn’t happen overnight, but in nearly all cases, it does happen.
“First class managers recruit first-class people. Second class managers recruit third class people”. Manfred de Kries.
The team needs to be comprised of team members with multiple and complementary skillsets. They need to possess specific industry knowledge and a set of appropriate skills matching that knowledge. These elements create synergies with other team members and are one of the things that make High-Performance Teams highly productive.
When building a High-Performance Team, you need a team member for each major discipline, your business activity demands. (i.e., Technology, Marketing, Infrastructure, Engineering, Finance, Sales and so on).
Ideal Team Member Attributes
The best yardstick I can suggest for selecting High-Performance team member candidates is that ‘they get things done. This attribute is made up of several elements:
- They get things done. These are the people who you can give a job, despite how busy they are, and ask for it to be completed by a specific time. You know that the job will be done, that it is guaranteed and that there is no need to follow up.
- They understand or can be trained to employ their natural talents (Strengths) to drive their work performance.
- They exude positivity and care about others.
- They have a “give it a go” attitude.
- They try to meet their commitments.
- They are supportive of others.
- They think that everyone is equal.
- They are curious.
- They respect meeting protocols. (Turning up on time, abiding by meeting rules.)
- They possess Gusto. Meaning they show great energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment that is experienced them taking part in an activity.
- They demonstrate Alacrity. Meaning they perform all tasks with speed and eagerness.
Gusto and alacrity come in different forms. One is the extrovert who is racing around to get something done, and another is the introvert who sits quietly in their workspace but produces remarkable results in a quick time. These elements create synergies with other team members and are one of the things that make High-Performance Teams highly productive.
Look for people who appear to be extraordinary; they have qualities that make a huge impact on their performance and the performance of others.
- They Ignore their job descriptions. Well, not completely, but they think and act outside their job description or fixed roles. When they encounter situations that require action, they act irrespective of their role or position. These are the people who get things done.
- They are eccentric. Someone with a somewhat unusual personality, someone who is very comfortable in their own skin. They may seem odd at first, but pleasantly so. They tend to be very creative, good debaters and make for excellent team members.
- Pull their sleeves up. When the going gets tough, these people have a trait of forgetting about who they are and rapidly becoming a member of the team when required. They recognise when things have become serious and change their behaviour accordingly.
- They appraise others in public. These people effortlessly appraise their fellow team members in the same way, and they do it publicly.
- They are self-motivated. These people come to work firstly for its enjoyment, to satisfy their passion and secondly for pay. They are often possessed by an overwhelming need to be successful and work hard to achieve it.
- They are process-driven. High-Performance teams are process-driven, some people get it, and some don’t. Process brings consistency, increased quality, cost-effectiveness, reduced task and project timeframes, and fewer errors, to mention just a few of the benefits. These people are the ones who off their own back work to make the process better.
It’s also good to have the following:
- Extroverts: are generally preferred because of their talkative, sociable, action-oriented, enthusiastic, friendly, and outgoing personalities. They are also faster decision-makers, more significant risk-takers and more innovative thinkers.
- Introverts: however, are necessary as well. They tend to be more focused, observant, lower risk-takers who carry out a more detailed analysis of available information than their extrovert partners, and they bring a conservatism and balance to decision making.
- Non-University or College level qualified, some of the very best people have no formal qualifications at all.
- Extraordinary: They ignore their job descriptions, are eccentric, pull their sleeves up when the going gets tough, appraise others in public, and are self-motivated and process-driven.
- Do you see senior management traits in any of the team members? You are, after all, developing team members to become High-Performance Managers. Some clues to management potential are people who think about others first, believe they are no better than anyone else, are personable, non-judgemental and hold themselves accountable. Often the best assessment is to observe their interactions with yourself and others and go with your gut.
Considering all the above attributes gives you a wide range of people to choose from. Most people will only have a few of these attributes, that’s fine, the training develops further attributes in people.
Virtually anyone can achieve high performance, I know, I have proven it many times.
Here is an example of a team in a very sorry state that I moved to high-performance. A newly appointed senior IT executive asked me to look over his IT department to identify and deal with any issues. The department had a reputation for poor performance and service. It was a large department that had old IT systems and a deeply rooted Traditional management structure. I soon discovered that the IT manager in charge had a regular habit of taking his direct reports to Mc Donald’s on Monday mornings, then returning to eat in his office which had a floor to ceiling clear glass front. As they ate, they decided amongst themselves which member of staff they would single out, bully and torment that week. All in full view of the staff who knew what they were up to. As you might imagine, the people were traumatised, timid, unwilling to venture an opinion on anything and mostly hide behind their desk partitions in fear of their managers and their abhorrent actions.
Suffice to say this practice did not last long. I let the IT manager go as he was beyond redemption, but I retained his direct reports and the staff. This team went on to achieve great success with outstanding job satisfaction, productivity, and service improvements.
Evaluating Team Members
Below you will find a Team Member Evaluation download. This consists of a process of fully evaluating and coming to understand your team members so that you can select or manage them more effectively. Most importantly it teaches team members about each other and what they all individually contribute. The process consists of having each team member complete five Team Member Questionnaires which are presented to the team after completion. Here is a summary of those questionnaires:
Questionnaire 1 — Position Attributes.
This questionnaire captures basic team member position information. Each team member needs to be very clear about exactly what their position entails as other team members need to know this.
Questionnaire 2 — Strengths.
This questionnaire captures each team member’s strengths, their natural way of thinking, feeling, and behaving, that is their natural talents, the things they are just good at. Unlike skills, strengths are not learned (although training may be used to enhance them). Team member strengths provide the ability to deliver consistent, near-perfect performance in a specific task, simply by using innate talents. Strengths when multiplied by the investment in time spent practising and developing them, result in a personal and unique knowledge base.
A team’s awareness of their mutual strengths is more important than the specific composition of those strengths. In other words — a team member just knowing their strengths, as well as the strengths of the other team members, leads to higher engagement and performance. When team members value each other’s strengths, they more effectively relate to one another and avoid potential conflicts. Understanding each other’s strengths boosts group cohesion and creates positive dialogue. When you have people in roles that fit their strengths and talents, their energy and passion can fuel their own great performance and inspire the same from their colleagues. Team members who know and use their strengths are better performers; they require little if any external motivation. Once each team member’s strengths are aimed at the same purpose and the team is aligned on the same goals, this is where true excellence and success happens.
Team members must be able to:
- Name and understand the individual strengths of everyone on the team.
- See a clear connection between each other’s strengths and behaviour, and see the link between strengths and success.
- Form partnerships that encourage their mutual strengths deployment and development.
- Use their knowledge of each other’s strengths to plan, strategize, analyse, and direct their actions.
- Understand that excellence is not achieved in isolation. Excellence is created through the merging of team members' differing strengths.
- Encourage collaboration among team members who have complementary strengths.
In one study of 65,672 employees, Gallup found that those who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9% lower than for employees who received no feedback (controlling for job type and tenure). A study of 530 work units with productivity data found that teams with managers who received strength feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity post-intervention than teams with managers who received no feedback. And in a study of 469 business units ranging from retail stores to large manufacturing facilities, Gallup found that units with managers who received strengths feedback showed 8.9% greater profitability post-intervention relative to units in which the manager received no feedback.
Questionnaire 3 — Diversity.
Diversity is the level of difference or heterogeneity within the team, it is an important differentiator between successful and unsuccessful teams. It provides teams with access to the different capabilities and points of view a successful team requires. Diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as in age, gender, and race, helps teams be more creative and avoid groupthink.
Diversity within a team operates at several levels. The first and the most visible type of diversity is the different roles within the team, the specialization. In a Traditional hierarchical organization, the most senior member of the team will lead it, parcelling out tasks according to each team member’s position in the team’s hierarchy. In high-performance teams, however, team roles must be complementary and are rarely dictated by position titles. Instead, they are dynamically divided and assigned based on the skills and capabilities each person brings to the team and their fit with the team’s needs at the time. Tasks are also assigned to stretch team members by taking them outside of their comfort zone.
A second, deeper level of diversity is based on identities (or demographics), such as gender, age, and ethnicity. Diversity of identity gives a team the ability to tap into different viewpoints and lived experiences — tacit knowledge that can greatly enhance effectiveness in working with a diverse set of stakeholders (both internal and external) that a team must typically deal with.
The third level is cognitive diversity. This refers to the diverse ways that individuals can approach and think about problems. In business, cognitive diversity is often tied to the business area or discipline in which a person has the most experience. A team of accountants, for example, is likely to frame all problems as accounting problems and assume accounting solutions. A cognitively diverse team of accountants, engineers, anthropologists, and skilled tradespeople will be forced to develop a multidisciplinary understanding of what the problem is, and will likely come up with a superior, and multidisciplinary, solution. A diverse team should ideally draw on a broad range of stakeholder groups, including a mix of capabilities, disciplines, personalities, risk appetites, and cognitive styles; that is, it should have a role, identity, and cognitive diversity.
The fourth level of diversity is leadership. This refers to team member supervisory, project management, management, general management, and leadership experience. Such experience is of high value to a team, as team members high in leadership can mentor other team members and quickly take on shared leadership responsibilities.
Too much of the same is dangerous and prohibitive to high performance. A team full of people with the same backgrounds and experiences has limits on the types of tasks a team can take on. Recruit for diversity and create a culture that allows diversity to be appreciated and celebrated.
Questionnaire 4 — Working Style.
We often work with people who have very different working styles which are made up of particular attributes — think extroverts, decision-makers and cautious introverts. A person’s working style is significant in that it can bring about a normalization of behaviours within a team, this is especially true for the manager. For example, if most people are extroverts, especially the manager, a team may default to large meetings and more collaborative sessions. Working styles cover more than just introverts and extroverts, they demonstrate the mental attitude and how that attitude infects other team members for better or for worse. Team members, therefore, need to understand each other’s dominant working styles.
Questionnaire 5 — Belbin Team Roles.
Belbin’s team roles are another way of understanding a team member’s position in the team and the contribution they make. They are an effective way to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of a team and help the team members to understand ways in which they could improve performance. Developed by Meredith Belbin in 1981, following nine years of study, it has become one of the most accessible and widely used tools to support team building. The roles are a guide only to each team member’s dominant role in the team. Matching each team member to a Belbin role shows how well balanced the team is.
The people you don’t want
The ones you don’t want are simply the opposite of the ones you do. These are people who are not comfortable with the concept of being a professional. They are usually the cowboys who ignore instructions and process and do as they please. Then there are terrorists; they actively look for situations they can make worse for the pure warped pleasure of it.
As a word of caution, you need to ask yourself “Do some people behave in a certain way because of the current workplace culture?” If you suspect this might be the case, I suggest you assume that they can change and therefore, be considered as possibilities. Only you can judge.
Then there are people who are just plain lazy and disinterested no matter what the culture. Don’t waste your time with these people, use the “Do you want to become a Professional?” approach (discussed later) and performance manage them out as fast as you can.
Some people are not interested in becoming a professional; they choose not to change their behaviours. There is no room for this attitude in the team. Team members need to decide upfront if they are interested in being developed into professionals. Personal biases and prejudices, for example, cannot be part of a professional persona, nor is there room for personal issues.
“If you have people in your team who, despite coaching and conversations, still cannot see the positives in their role (no matter how much potential they show or how long they’ve been in your organization), remove them. It’s time to move on. Similarly, employees should avoid negative colleagues.” Andrew May. Performance Coach.
These people are more interested in the job’s perks than they are in the job. Gen Y can be guilty of this. These people, believing they are highly valuable come to you demanding or strongly suggesting at least that it’s in everyone’s best interest to expand their remuneration package. They want to receive more flexible working hours, paid overtime, a personal use Uber account, to bring their dog to work, want company paid life insurance, and the list goes on. What I like about these people is they declare their real agenda to you, which makes them easily identified as people you don’t want. High-Performance team members are in it for the job, the work, and the experience, not just for the perks.
A staff member that holds you hostage: These are staff who due to their many years of service are the only staff members left with specific business knowledge. They are a highly valuable resource, and they know it. Steps need to be taken in these situations to document what they know (best of luck with that) and to train other staff. I have encountered many people of this type and, each has firmly believed that they are indispensable and therefore, can do as they please. They ignore management directions, carry out unauthorised work, are often lazy and even go as far as to turn up for work when it suits them.
I give everyone a second chance. I discuss with these people what my expectations are and that specific behaviour of theirs is unprofessional and that I have no room for them in my team. I then document the discussion in an email and copy them and Human Resources as part of a potential ‘Performance Management plan’ to manage them out. Often, they call your bluff, believing you won’t do it.
In most cases, I have happily terminated their employment based on their failure to meet my documented expectations and for failure to carry out their (again documented) job functions in a professional manner. Never has a department suffered any real issues as a result of a hostage taker’s departure. Yes, I move quickly to get an experienced contractor in if that’s possible until I can get a replacement if that’s what’s required.
Recruiting for High-Performance
I always look for people whom I consider to be better, more skilled, or more knowledgeable than myself. Interviews are supposed to be a two-way affair. However, the most effective practice I have found is to have the best team members do the recruitment, and let the most talented find the talent.
To stop interviews from becoming a one-sided interrogation, I recommend asking the important job description questions first and then having a casual conversation with each candidate. I always learnt more about someone by just chatting about the job, the company, the work, their expectations, and aspirations and I tell them that I am recruiting for High-Performance team membership. My suggested interview approach is to:
- Ask the routine questions that you need to cover for comparing different candidates.
- See if they have a happy outlook and look genuinely excited to be there?
- Say something obscure or meaningless and see if they question you about it.
- Assess if their demeanour yells “I will give it a go”?
Then I ask them:
- What is the worst mistake they have ever made?
- If I don’t employ them, what am I going to miss out on?
- To ask me a question I have never heard before.
- What their plan is to become a professional?
- What do they think of the job description?
- What is the meaning of a High-Performance Team? (Noting that they may not be able to answer this.)
When doing a reference check, there are only three questions I have my team members ask:
- “What do you like about this person?”
- “What do you not like about this person?”
- “Would you employ this person again?”
Finally, in my experience of having worked with over 100 teams, I have learned to give everyone the opportunity to make the grade no matter their starting point. Even the quietest, introverted people excel with training, in fact, virtually everyone does. A test of how well training has gone is that all team members begin to demonstrate gusto and alacrity — as these are the two most important attributes that you want.
Any manager can train their team to achieve high performance, it is not difficult.