team building - performing

It’s a kind of magic.

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie Stepanek, Poet and Peace Activist.

“Politeness is the poison of collaboration.” – Edwin Land, American scientist, inventor and co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation.

You have just reached the Holy Grail of ‘Team Developers’. Good Job! You are done and can go home. NOT! From my experience, this state of high performance will not be held by the team for long without some additional external stimuli. In order words, provide the team with just enough variety and ambitious goals to support their intrinsic motivation and anxiety, without creating too much stress (change, high expectations) that will kill performance. At this level, the team is goal-driven. There is enough they can do themselves.

One thing we have to remember is that the purpose of the team is to create value. The value for the customers and for the organization. So, as a leader, your main task in this role is to outline the direction, immerse them in the long-term vision (attached to values and mission of the organization) and set short- and mid-term goals. If you do this right, the rest will be achieved by your highly-motived, highly performing and self-organizing team.

There is also an interesting concept presented by A. White in his paper “From Comfort Zone to Performance Management”. He takes the linear Tuckman model of group development and put’s it into a recurring cycle of Transforming -> Performing -> Reforming. According to White, it is possible for the team to increase performance regularly in those cycles. During the initial stage of transformation to new performance, there needs to be time for the team to acquire new skills, people, and resources to research new ideas and ways of working. Therefore, for the team to reach the new performance level, the goals/targets set before them should be achievable with the new skills developed by the team during the previous transforming phase.

restarting performance

To summarize this – when you see that the performance of a team is stable (or starting to decline), it is time to set new challenges for them. Just remember to give them enough time to learn new things and research the new possibilities/areas in order to keep the right balance of motivation and anxiety. A good example is when a project team is at the verge of starting something totally different – an ambitious goal to research and develop a completely new version of the service using a new and hopefully, exciting technology. In my opinion this is a great opportunity to reach new heights of performance.

Symptoms to look for in a highly Performing team [Balsom, Barrass, Michela, Zdaniuk, Processes and Attributes of Highly Effective Teams]:

  • Mission and Goals – High performing teams have a clear mission and/or goals
  • Team Leadership – Leadership functions are performed reliably
  • Communication – Members learn enough of what others believe, soon enough
  • Decision Making – Systematic, agreed-upon decision processes are used
  • Culture – The cultures of high performing teams provide predictability and alignment
  • Group Motivation – Psychological membership in a valued group can be a source of motivation and a resource for overcoming problems
  • Conflict – Effective teams address task conflict productively and prevent personalized conflict
  • Meetings – Meetings facilitate communication and decision making
  • Self-Management – Individual members are effective self-managers (within the boundaries of the organization)

Don’t destroy this magical state of performance intentionally. Be prepared to revisit some of the earlier stages and do what the team requires to get them back on track.

  • Delegate the right amount of responsibility, duties and activities to the team (see “Management 3.0 Workout” by Jurgen Appelo for great ideas about delegation)
  • Create even more space for the team (within the organization) to extend their autonomy
  • Limit your interference in team problem solving
  • Challenge the team from time to time to stimulate growth, continuous improvement and to push them (gently) out of their comfort zone (A. White ‘Transforming-Performing-Reforming’)
  • Encourage team members to develop personally and professionally. Lead it by your own example
  • From time to time remind the team about the overall vision, common goal
  • Monitor the team discreetly to ensure they are not regressing to an earlier stage of team development (be it due to composition changes, work environment or something else)
  • Retrospectives driven by the team, focused on perfecting ways of working, value flow and experimenting with new ideas.
  • Force improvements on the team
  • Be overprotective, always jumping in to helping the team out or organizing their work at the slightest hint of problems.
  • Start suddenly applying directive or coaching style of management. The team doesn’t need the coordinator, a father figure or a coach anymore. They need a mirror (from time to time).
  • See conflicts where there are none (or they are the healthy ones – related to tasks)
  • Under appreciate the success of the team (“Well, it’s ok, but you can do better”)
  • Strive to be the center of attention (“You still need me, I’ll show you…”)

Now back to self-organization. Finally you have the team you were looking for, now the magic can happen. However, having a properly (trans)formed team is just one of the prerequisites for self-organization. Let me summarize my view on the factors that support and kill self-organization (based on discussions we had recently on Agile Coach Camp PL and Agile Wrocław)

Supporting self-organizationKilling self-organization
  • Framework
  • Boundaries
  • Trust (both ways)
  • Pressure – the right amount of anxiety and motivation
  • Relations
  • Team that has gone through the stages of group development to reach performance
  • Established (and accepted) internal roles (also leader roles) but equal hierarchy
  • Clear expectations from the organization
  • Safe to fail environment (we celebrate learning instead of success/failure)
  • Autonomy (7 levels of delegation)
  • Environment that supports people growth and pursue of mastery
  • Ambitious projects/goals
  • Common goal
  • Enough skills in the team to deliver value (achieve goal)
  • External leader in a directive role (or a father figure, or a Scrum Mom)
  • Organizational structure (management)
  • Demotivating factors [Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman, The Motivation to Work]
  • Lack of transparency
  • Too many changes (in goals, priorities, boundaries and/or composition of the team)
  • Not taking responsibility for the value delivery
  • Lack of continuous improvement
  • Team that cannot influence anything around them
  • Wrong processes (or lack of thereof)
  • Bureaucracy
  • Unsolved personal conflicts
  • Comfort zone
  • 5 Dysfunctions [Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable]