Leading a High Performance Team

People working together toward a common goal usually can get things done much faster and more effectively than individuals working alone. Because of this, and because of the constant change happening in the way organizations work, the way they are managed, and in technology overall, teams are becoming a major strategy for companies around the world that want to do business in a more efficient way. Personally, I enjoy participating in teams because I love helping people and I love learning from them. I guess you could say being on a team is in my sweet spot.

Now I have a couple of questions for you: How many work-related teams (project teams, virtual teams, management teams, etc.) are you on right now? And how much of your work week would you say is spent doing team-related work? If you’re like most people, it’s likely you are on five or six different teams and you spend about half your working hours in a team setting. And if you’re in a leadership role, the higher your level, the more time you spend in teams.

If you’ve ever worked on a high performance team that had a skilled leader, you know it can be  a powerful approach for goal accomplishment or problem solving. But what if you’re on a team that you know is not a high performance team? You’re not alone there, either. If members of a team don’t have a shared purpose, if they are unclear about their roles or the team’s goals, or if they aren’t accountable to each other, it’s hard to get anything done. What’s more, if the leader isn’t proficient in the skills required to successfully lead a high performance team, the team is more likely to fail than to succeed.

So if you’re a team leader, how do you give your team the best chance of success? It’s about knowing and understanding the characteristics and development stages that make up a high performance team.

The 4 Stages of Team Development

When a team is first put together, the first stage members go through is Orientation. They have high expectations but are not yet informed as to the goals of the team or the roles each person will take on. The team leader must provide structure while building relationships and trust.  

The second stage of team development is Dissatisfaction. After the excitement of joining a new team with intriguing possibilities, members may find themselves discouraged and frustrated with the process and with each other. The team leader’s responsibility is to clarify the purpose and goals while recognizing small victories and positive behaviors.

In stage three, Integration, things are getting better. Team members work together more effectively and trust among members increases as they learn to support each other and collaborate. The leader may begin sharing leadership responsibilities but must continue encouraging people to talk openly, catch each other doing things right, and work on their decision making and problem solving skills.

The biggest challenge of the fourth stage, Production, is for team members to sustain their high performance. Morale and trust among members is high, as is the quality and amount of work the team is producing. At this stage the team provides its own direction and support and the leader is there to validate members’ achievements. Everyone participates in leadership responsibilities.

Leading a high performance team is a big job, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For more help on keeping your team on track toward success—and finding your sweet spot as a team leader—check out this blog post by my colleague David Witt. It features great tips from Lael Good, our company’s director of consulting services and coauthor of our new Team Leadership program.

Bounded Set Thinking vs. Centered Set Thinking

(This is the ninth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

In my last post I stated that business and government can’t solve all of America’s problems by themselves. Ideally, our leaders in Washington would involve every sector of society in problem solving. The three sectors encompass nine different domains:

  • The Public Sector, represented by government, military, and education
  • The Private Sector, represented by business, arts/entertainment, and media
  • The Social Sector, represented by the faith community, nonprofit organizations, and families

When Eric Swanson and Sam Williams were working on their book To Transform a City, they come across a very interesting philosophy about problem-solving relationships. Paul Hiebert from Fuller Seminary discovered in the 1970s that when people come together to solve a problem, they often have a “closed circle” philosophy, or what he called a Bounded Set. A bounded-set thinker asks the question, “Do you believe like I believe?”  This becomes a divisive question because it separates those who are in from those who are out, limiting people who are allowed to work on the problem to those who sign off on an agreed-upon belief.  Whether it’s political, religious, or some other type of personal conviction—unless you believe what we believe, you can’t work on the problem. This philosophy doesn’t work because it is exclusive, not inclusive. The weeding-out process continues, the circle keeps getting smaller, and the problem doesn’t get solved.

A more productive way to look at problem-solving relationships is an open philosophy Hiebert referred to as a Centered Set. A centered set has no boundary that defines who is in and who is out. The question that determines if you are part of the problem-solving group is, simply, “Do you care about what I care about?” This philosophy works because it is inclusive of all belief systems and focuses on the matter at hand: Are you concerned about the problem we want to focus on?

How would this work in Washington?  It would be the job of the president and the legislature to first identify the key problem areas that need to be focused on to help keep America prosperous and safe. Next, they would select key people from each of the nine domains, whether inside or outside their own ranks, who care about each of the areas selected. Each of these groups would work with other American citizens to develop strategies to solve each of the key problems or concern issues going forward.

The people working together could have all different kinds of personal convictions about things as long as they were all passionate about the key problem area they were working together on—whether it be the economy, homeland security, unemployment, affordable housing, balancing the budget, improving the educational system, or another important issue.

Identifying leaders from each of the domains to work on each problem highlights the fact that no one segment of the population can solve all of America’s problems. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

A perfect example of someone who lived and breathed this philosophy was William Wilberforce, who helped stop slavery in England. It took twenty years. He traveled the country on horseback and got to know key leaders from all of the different domains. He didn’t care what they believed politically, religiously, or economically—all he asked the leaders was whether they agreed with him that slavery was wrong.  If they agreed, he would help them determine how they could influence important people within different segments of society and get them on the “stop slavery” bandwagon. This led to a number of people from diverse backgrounds coming together to put an end to slave trading and ultimately abolish slavery in their country altogether.

This is the type of process our government leaders need to put into action to deal with today’s pressing issues. Right now, Washington seems to be dominated by the bounded-set philosophy, where “you have to believe what I believe” to even begin to work together on a problem, let alone agree on a solution. So you have one big bounded-set group, the Democrats, at odds with another big bounded-set group, the Republicans.

The only way to get anywhere is through compromise. What makes this third secret for fixing Washington so powerful is that it focuses on sustained collective action by all segments of society.

Next time I’ll bring it all together with the fourth secret for fixing Washington, which involves a practice that’s near and dear to my heart:  servant leadership.

Are the people of America treated as business partners?

(This is the seventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

I’ve laid out the first secret that would help our leaders bring America back to a healthy state:  Create a compelling vision by knowing who we are (our purpose), where we’re going (our picture of the future), and what will guide our journey (our values). If our leaders had a clear, agreed-upon vision, it would help them set national goals they could focus on. But they shouldn’t try to figure everything out by themselves. That leads me to the second secret.

The Second Secret: Treat Citizens as Your Business Partners

Assumption: The more that people are “in the know,” the greater their commitment to work together to help solve problems.

In my work in the business world, one of the things that has bothered me the most is watching leaders of companies in financial trouble go behind closed doors and make all the decisions by themselves in an attempt to turn the situation around.  It’s amazing to talk to people in those organizations who didn’t even know there was a problem until major layoffs were announced. Those people certainly didn’t feel like business partners—they felt like victims.

A lot of people don’t know that Southwest Airlines is over eighty percent unionized. When employees were first asked to vote on being union members, they came to cofounder Herb Kelleher to tell him what was going on. He said, “I love unions as long as they will let you sit on the same side of the table as me. If they want us to sit on opposite sides of the table, vote them down.” Union leaders have been present at every leadership meeting I have attended at Southwest Airlines. That’s quite a different story from other airlines that fight with their unions or even declare bankruptcy to break union contracts. At Southwest, they are one big family of business partners.

That’s why I think many Americans don’t trust politicians—because they don’t treat the American people as business partners. They don’t share information with us. We know we’re going through a difficult time but we don’t really know the facts. Politicians are sitting around Washington trying to figure out solutions to our problems and they haven’t asked us to help.

My wife Margie and I were recently in Australia visiting a business colleague, Lindsay Fox, who founded Linfox Transport. When we first met Lindsay in 1977, his company was doing about $10 or $15 million in annual business. Today, Linfox does over $1 billion annually just in logistics—not only in Australia but also in countries all over Asia. He’s one of the most respected businessmen in Australia. Several years ago when Australia was having a big problem with unemployment, Australia’s then-prime minister asked Lindsay and the head of the trade union association to take to the road. They visited major cities and towns in Australia to share the facts about the unemployment problem and to try to convince business owners to provide work for unemployed people.  This approach helped generate over 60,000 new jobs. Why? Because they went to the people, shared the information, and asked for help. Lindsay was quoted as saying, “It’s incredible what you can do when you believe you can work through it. This is why it’s tremendously important to work with the government, with friends, and help people.”

Our leaders need to do the same thing. Be honest with us. Tell the American people what the issues are and then go to communities around the country, let us know how we can help, and listen to our suggestions. I guarantee you that the citizens of this country have lots of good ideas and are willing to work with our leaders to find solutions for America’s problems.

Jack Bowsher, former Director of Education for IBM, agrees with my contention that Washington should treat our citizens as business partners. He argues, “To protect our way of life and our standard of living, we Americans must become more involved in seeking the truth about the key issues that are being debated and voted on at all three levels of our government.”

If our leaders in Washington would start seeing American citizens as true business partners, it’s amazing to think of what we could accomplish together. Would you agree?

When it comes to getting America back on track, I believe involving every segment of society is essential. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Coach Calipari: A Winner and a Servant Leader

The world is in a desperate need of a different leadership role model. Everyone has seen the effects of self-serving leaders in every aspect of our society. What we need today are leaders who are servant leaders.

When people hear the phrase servant leadership, they are often confused. They immediately conjure up thoughts of the inmates running the prison, or trying to please everyone. Others think servant leadership is only for church leaders. The problem is that they don’t understand leadership. They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. From my experience, not only is it possible, it’s the only way over the long run to get great performance and human satisfaction. To prove my point, I’m always looking for good servant leader examples. Continue reading