Hierarchy of Teaming
In this section, I classify teams as high-performance or underperforming. There are, of course, many shades of grey. But this simple distinction will allow us to learn more about the characteristics of successful teaming.
Besides the dichotomy just mentioned – high-performance and underperforming – there are other useful approaches to understanding highperformance teams. Other collective processes worth exploring in this regard are core teams, competency networks, working groups, and virtual companies. I will be discussing each of these for understanding the purpose, utility, and the characteristics of these various collaborative approaches to doing work, especially those where I have experience, and to highlight the ones that are most likely to be useful in given situations.
First, though, readers may be wondering whether it is possible, in a highperformance work system, for a person to contribute as an individual to an organization's success. The answer to that question is a resounding yes. It is possible, indeed often desirable, for an individual to do work that is purposeful and directed at increasing the success of the entire organization. I can think of a number of examples of positive individual effort:
• Thinking about ideas at different levels and developing ideas before presenting them to others or inluencing others to work together on the idea.
• Working on improving certain skills and character attributes to reach
higher levels of leading and functioning capability.
• Carrying out limited, speciic tasks that support a team's objective, but doing so from outside the team. So, yes, individual work within a high-performance work system can be of very high value. Most often, though, it is valuable because it is contributing necessary inputs to a broader project or because it is a necessary precursor to a group or team effort.
I begin this section by summarizing the six characteristics of highperformance teams that have stood out in my experience. In so doing, I hope to make it clear how role model leaders in high-performance work systems can lead an organization most effectively.
1. SMALLER IS OFTEN BETTER
Many who have studied the characteristics of successful teams have concluded that small teams work best. That is also a personal observation. If there are fewer than ive members there will not be enough functional capability to satisfy the team's goals. If there are more than nine or ten members, conlict is likely to develop in a way that limits the focus on the team. There will be too much energy in a group that large and too little focus on the task. Many years ago, one of the teams on which I participated had a member who researched this phenomenon. He found that in prehistoric times, a hunting party was about nine people, each of whom had different skills. For example, there would be people skilled in tracking (i.e., sensing, smelling, seeing, hearing), there would be the killers, there would be the haulers, and there would be those with skinning and dressing skills. There were around nine people in hunting groups in most cases. So perhaps even in prehistoric times, teams that had a speciic goal required an optimum num-
ber of people for success. At the very least, this is worth remembering.
The empirical evidence I have gathered over the years has convinced me that each team will ind its optimal vitality in part from an optimum size. Too few people, and the team will suffer from a shortage of capability; too many people, and the team's energy will dissipate. The role model leader will often experiment with the team size for a given task and have the competence and courage to make changes early in the process.
2. HIGH-PERFORMANCE TEAMING REQUIRES HIGH-PERFORMANCE MEMBERS
The members of a team must have the capabilities the project requires. So a role model leader must evaluate people carefully before assigning them
to the team to ensure that the group will have the capabilities that the project requires. But at the same time, the team must not be overloaded with more people than the project requires. It is better to select a handful of highly capable people than a larger number of people with fewer capabilities.
It may be important to select members with the required skills, character attributes, and behaviours, but it is essential to select members who can work collaboratively. The best role model leaders of high-performance teams will take the time and exert the energy to seek out those members who are most likely to deliver the best results. The best people will be motivated to do the work contemplated, will be the most competent people to carry it out, and will have had – importantly – relevant experience at the work.
In part two of this book, I described a number of capabilities required for role model leadership. The characteristics I listed there are also required for all members of a team. Indeed, it is in the cauldron of the highperformance team that the competency of role model leading, the idea of Everyone a Leader, is evident. The more role model leadership the team has, the higher its performance will be. And the higher the functional capabilities of these role model leaders, the more likely it is that the team will succeed.
Imagine a team on which everyone has the character attributes of trustworthiness, respect for people, tenacity for getting work done, and honesty in dealing with tasks and other team members. This is a high-performance teaming environment. Then add to that team the functional capabilities of role model leading – irst and foremost, the ability to think effectively and to communicate with others at all levels of thought. Then add to that the ability to reconcile different points of view and to create innovative solutions, and the ability to prioritize work and bring extensive experience to the team.
And then imagine recruiting people with role model leading behaviour: members who are not ego driven, who will not disrupt the team's work with a personal agenda, and who will not seek ways to gain the upper hand over others or to leverage the team's performance for their personal beneit. High-performance teaming is highly dependent on purposeful behaviour – ideally, it is dependent on values-driven behaviour.
And inally, there are few high-performance teams that would not beneit from engineering and scientiic functional capability. This is true even of those teams formed to deal with organizational issues that would be considered non-technical. The problem-solving capabilities of a competent engineer or scientist can add considerable value. 3. DISCIPLINED, SYSTEMATIC PROCESSES ARE REQUIRED
The work of a team must be sharply deined and fully thought out. A useful tool for this essential component of high-performance teaming is what I call the “task cycle.” Each high-performance team needs to collectively develop each component of this framework, which will then guide the team's actions. This cycle should be conducted more than once as the team carries out its work. Also, the task cycle must be conducted jointly, with all members heard, so that they can determine the need for any revisions to the task. In a newly formed team, conducting a task cycle should be the irst step.
The Task Cycle Model
Express the team's work in a few words to see if all understand the task in the same way.
Expressing the team's purpose begins by answering the Why? question. The answer will serve as the reason the work is being done as it relates to a future state. The What? question is then asked, and the answer – which usually starts with “To do…” – will be a broad statement that summarizes the actions the team is to take that will result in the goal being achieved. Lastly, the How? question generates a series of steps that the team will take to meet the goal. The documentation of this is often in the What? How? Why? order.
The expected result:
This part of the task cycle requires the team members to clearly and fully express the outcomes they consider their goal. It also includes speciic quantitative performance metrics that relect the goal. At this point, it should be clear to the team how achieving the outcome will bring positive change to the organization and how the team's success will meet the needs of each stakeholder on the team and those of the business organization as a whole.
The team process:
There needs to be a discussion and an early decision on the value-add process the team will apply to determine the steps required to do the work. Will there be discussion, presentation, subteam work? Will there be regular meetings? The process to be used needs to be disciplined, orderly, and systematic. It can evolve once the project has begun. The functioning capability:
This refers to the skills, character attributes, and unique behaviours required to achieve the outcomes expected of this speciic team. It includes a commitment by the team leader to help her team members develop leadership competence. In fact, the selection of team members should be based on whether the people being chosen are motivated to learn leadership capabilities while serving on the team. Those who will are the ones who should be chosen. Here is where the identity of the people on the team is described and where the questions are answered regarding who will be executing what, where, and when.
• The manufacturing plant managers will be working together to improve safety in their plants.
• (What) To rapidly reduce the level of measurable injuries across the
company's manufacturing plants.
• (How) The senior leaders of all the manufacturing plants will work together and learn together for the purpose of inding ways to change things in a positive manner to improve safety in the workplace.
• (Why) In order to achieve the future state goal of zero injuries in the
The expected result:
• A path towards a 10 per cent year-over-year improvement in recordable
injury frequency from the current state.
• Growth in the manufacturing plants' leadership capabilities required to achieve the goals described. (This is a developmental learning outcome – every high-performance team has one.)
The team process:
• A series of meetings, estimated to span one year – at least once per month of all plant leaders. The team is to include a highly experienced and competent expert in workplace safety from a role model plant as well as front-line operators from the poorest-performing plant.
• Subteams on leading and leadership capabilities will be required, as
well as a subteam on information gathering and utilization. The functioning capability:
• Speciically the most senior leadership from each manufacturing plant.
• Speciic expertise in workplace safety technologies and manufacturing
• Speciic expertise in the behaviour and capabilities of the front-line
workers (e.g., relating to practices and procedures).
• Expertise in leading and leadership competence to fulil the need for all on the team to develop their capability as part of the work – an individual who will be the leader of the team for this task.
4. EVERYONE MUST ACCEPT ACCOUNTABILITY
The role model leader will emphasize the need for all members of the team to accept accountability for the team's success.
Speciically, the role model leader of the high-performance team will accept personal accountability for achieving the team's goal. Also, that person will inluence others on the team to hold one another accountable for the results. All members will have personal objectives related to meeting the team's goal, and they will inluence, encourage, and assist the other members to assume their personal responsibilities for achieving that goal as necessary.
Integral to this collective acceptance of individual and team accountability is honest collective feedback. Each person on the high-performance team needs to feel responsible for providing feedback to the team on its performance and also to feel responsible for providing feedback to other individuals on the team with regard to their performance relative to the goal. All of this will require the team's role model leader to teach the skills, character attributes, and purposeful behaviour required – teaching and developing the requisite leadership competency in each member.
And inally, there must be accountability in the team to achieve the team's goals … do the work, meet the goals, end the work, move on to other tasks.
5. EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE ENGAGED IN LEARNING
The previous discussion on accountability described the need for role model teaching and performance.
First, the leader of the high-performance team needs to exhibit exceptional leadership competence. That person must also be prepared to engage the entire team in the ongoing development of leadership competence. The most effective way to do this is by integrating the work directed at achieving the goal with developmental teaching. For example, if the team's goal is to
improve some aspect of workplace safety, then the development of leadership capability might focus on behaving ethically, achieving reconciles, respecting other people, and so on.
The difference between a high-performance team and a team that is merely effective has mainly to do with the leadership development that is part of the high-performance team's agenda. The leader of a highperformance team understands that the competence concentrated in that team provides a great opportunity to develop future role model leaders for the organization as a whole. Extra time will be required to inject the work of leadership development into the project the team has been assigned, but that extra effort will pay off in the future for the organization. There is no better environment for developing leadership than in the cauldron of a high-performance team doing work of great importance and urgency.
A leader who is skilled at teamwork will state at the outset that one objective is to maximize team performance. He will realize that teamwork is an opportunity for developing the self and for learning to be a better person and leader.
This leader will also be aware that another key aspect of his role on the team is to protect its members from outside inluences that might distract them from their goal. In other words, this leader will inluence those outside the team to support his team members and their goals. Moreover, if some people in the organization threaten to interfere with the team, the role model leader will need to protect his team from them. Recall from part two that Kalev Pugi was superb at this aspect of leadership: he won support for his project at headquarters and made sure that his team had the funding, resources, and time to develop an important new manufacturing process.
This is not to say that all outside inluences are negative. The role model leader also needs to be open to positive outside inluences and provide a conduit for them. For example, the role model leader can locate the necessary technology and other potential value-adds as the team requires them.
6. UNDERPERFORMING TEAMS MUST BE IDENTIFIED
The role model leader of a high-performance team needs to realize that unless the team has a continuous improvement mentality – a developmental mentality – it may not perform to its potential. Generally, an underperforming team has one or more of the following characteristics:
• The team members do not collaborate. This fault is then magniied because those individuals who are experiencing dificulties are not being supported by others. • The leader and the members have not created a disciplined process for
the work, which leads to wasteful actions.
• Overall, the team leader has not established a team commitment to a clear goal. As a consequence, the members are focusing on themselves rather than the goals.