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.

Memorial Day Remembrances

This past Monday was Memorial Day—a federal holiday in the United States designed for remembering and honoring those who have died in the service of our country.

Memorial Day weekend was always an important time of remembrance for my father, who served in the U.S. Navy. During World War II he led a group of twelve Landing Craft Infantry ships (LCI) in an assault on the Marshall Islands. The LCI’s job was to protect the Marines and the Frogmen (now Seals) during major battles. Tragically, 70 percent of my father’s men were killed or wounded during the assault.

My father retired as a Navy Admiral. He and my mother are buried side by side in Washington, D.C. at Arlington Cemetery—a beautiful place of rest that honors our heroes and their families.

Last year my wife, Margie, and I went on a three-day tour of Normandy, France, with the folks from The National World War II Museum. Normandy is the site of a battle that was the turning point in Europe during World War II. What an emotional experience it was to visit the American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 10,000 U.S. servicemen who perished in the battle are buried or memorialized. I wish every American could visit Normandy to witness the truth of the phrase “Freedom is not free.”

I hope you can schedule some quiet time this week to reflect on those who gave everything for our freedom. Teach your children and grandchildren the meaning of Memorial Day—and move forward with kindness as you interact with others.

God bless America!

Ken

Servant Leadership in the Midst of Tragedy

Several members from our church, including a friend of mine, recently traveled to the Holy Land. Before they left, my friend received well wishes from his friend, a rabbi at Chabad of Poway synagogue. “He gave us special blessings for a safe journey. Many people worried about our safety while we were in Israel and Jordan. How ironic that only a short time after our return, this attack took place at my friend’s synagogue, a mile from our home.”

On Saturday, the last day of Passover, Chabad of Poway was the scene of a shooting that left several people wounded and one woman dead. Witnesses say Lori Gilbert Kaye was killed as she jumped between the shooter and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein as bullets were fired. Friends of Lori describe her as a kind, generous person—a “warrior of love.”

During the attack, Rabbi Goldstein was shot in both hands. One of his fingers later had to be amputated. Yet, immediately after the shooter left the scene, the rabbi got up on a chair and said to the congregation, “We will not let anyone or anything take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down.” What a great example of a servant leader—despite his own physical pain, he knew his congregation needed that comfort and encouragement right away. Rabbi Goldstein later spoke about the heroism he had witnessed. “It’s standing up to evil, standing up to darkness. It’s necessary in life. We can’t just be a bystander. We need to be an activist and get out there and be a hero. Light pushes away darkness.”

Only a few hours after the shooting, more than 900 Jews, Christians, and Muslims from all over San Diego attended an interfaith prayer and peace vigil at our own Rancho Bernardo Community Church, which is less than a mile from Chabad of Poway synagogue. It was a wonderful demonstration of the power of peace, love, and prayer.

No matter what evil there is in the world, we need to come together and love our neighbors. So this week, no matter where you live, reach out to people in your community who may be hurting—and always remember to keep your I love yous up to date.

Ask Empowering Questions

Most of us—even millennials—have a history of working under guidance and control at school and in our workplaces. Therefore, we tend to think of authority as external rather than internal. The following questions are all too familiar to us:

At school: “What does the teacher want me to do to get good grades?”

At work: “What does my boss want me to do?”

While things are changing, we live and work in a culture predominated by top-down management and hierarchical thinking, so we’re far less likely to ask questions like these:

At school: “What do I want to learn from this class? How will I know I have learned something I can use?”

At work: “What do I need to do to help my company succeed?”

These are empowering questions. President Kennedy made a call for these kinds of questions when he challenged Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Empowering questions open the possibility for us to become stronger and more competent. So why don’t we ask them more often?

It gets back to all those hard-earned parenting, teaching, and managing skills we learned from our hierarchical culture. Indeed, we feel it is our responsibility as parents, teachers, or managers to tell people what to do, how to do it, and why it needs to be done. We feel we’d be shirking our responsibilities to ask children, students, or direct reports empowering questions such as these:

“What do you think needs to be done, and why is it important?”

“What do you think your goals should be?”

“How do you think you should go about achieving your goals?”

Many of us are afraid to relinquish control to our direct reports because we’re concerned about outcomes. Yet organizations with a culture of empowerment almost always outperform their hierarchical competitors. Consider the following story from Ritz-Carlton, a company famous for its culture of empowerment.

A loss prevention officer at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, was called for the second time to a guest room after receiving a complaint of children playing hockey in the hallway. A typical response might have been to knock on the family’s door and ask them to be quiet. But Ritz-Carlton encourages its employees to think for themselves as they live by the company’s “Gold Standards.” These standards invite empowering questions such as:

  • How can I respond to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests?
  • How can I create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests?

Rather than tell the parents to shush their hallway-hockey-playing kids, the loss prevention officer came up with a creative solution. He enlisted banquet employees to isolate space in one of the meeting rooms and create a hockey rink, using banquet tables as a frame. While the “rink” was being set up, he drove to a local sports store and bought two hockey nets, six sticks, and hockey balls. Finally, he delivered a written note to the family, inviting them to an impromptu hockey match against the Loss Prevention All-Stars.

Needless to say, the family was wowed.

A tight match was played between the Loss Prevention All-Stars and Team Family, with Team Family emerging victorious. The game was recorded on the Loss Prevention in-house cameras and Team Family was sent photos of their epic game.

Double-wow.

My friend Tony Robbins often says, “Successful people ask better questions and as a result, they get better answers.” So, ask yourself some empowering questions, and encourage your people to do the same.

Now More Than Ever: A Leadership Vision for America

Several years ago, I was struck by how many people were expressing disappointment with what was going on in Washington. No matter which side of the political fence they were on, people agreed that special interests and partisan gridlock were hurting our nation’s ability to govern itself.

It occurred to me that four leadership secrets I’d learned over the years could lead to effective solutions to the problems in our nation’s capital. In response, I wrote a white paper entitled “A Leadership Vision for America: Rebuilding a Divided House.”

Recently, Don Miller—the bestselling author and creator of StoryBrand—was inspired by my four secrets and became determined to share my thinking with key people in Washington. Drawing on his extensive contacts, he and our Blanchard colleague, Sheri Lyons, were able to present my white paper and discuss its ideas with key people in the office of the vice president in Washington, DC.

You may remember the 12-part blog series I wrote from June 2012 – November 2012 about those leadership secrets. Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Create a Compelling Vision. We no longer know what business we are in as a country (our purpose), what we are trying to accomplish (our picture of the future) or what should drive our behavior as a country (our values). The Bible says that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” That doesn’t sound promising! We need a big picture vision we can all agree upon.
  • Treat citizens as business partners. Most of us are in the dark about the bills that are being passed and generally what’s going on besides chaos. We need greater transparency in government.
  • Invite every sector of society to the table. There are several sectors in our nation. In the public sector we have government, education, and the military. In the private sector we have business, the media, and the arts. In the social sector we have families, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits. Right now, the only two big voices are government and business; the other sectors are left out of the process. We need all voices to be heard and considered.
  • Elect servant leaders. Servant leaders do not focus on winning. Instead, they focus on the well-being of the communities they serve. Until we elect representatives who put service ahead of ego and ideology, our government won’t improve.

In the years since I wrote “A Leadership Vision for America,” disappointment with Washington has turned to embarrassment. We certainly need some different thinking if we are going to rebuild a divided house. In the meantime, let’s pray that representatives in our nation’s capital start caring more about helping America regain its reputation as “a shining city upon a hill” than getting re-elected.