'High performance' is an incredibly over-used phrase in the world today covering everything from elite sport to workplace cultures and even domestic products (e.g. high performance wet wipes!). This article aims to explain how we consider high performance in teams and business.
Exact definitions differ, but a common perspective of a high-performance organisation is one that achieves superior results relative to their peers, over a sustained period of time, by focusing on what matters most to that organisation.
All organisations are made up of teams and networks of teams. So it follows that high performance in the organisation must be preceded by high performance in teams. After all, it is difficult to comprehend a high performance organisation made up of dysfunctional teams.
That’s why we focus on working initially with the senior leadership team of a client. If we can make that team truly high performing, and assist them in cascading these behaviours through their own teams, we can gain significant traction in embedding positive change through the business.
There are some excellent teams models on the market. Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team is probably the best known. He argues the following characteristics are required for a team to become high performing:
Trust. Team members must have sufficient trust to be vulnerable with one another.
Conflict. All teams should have good amounts of constructive conflict in debating and arguing the positives and negatives of an idea. With trust established prior, these can effectively be ran with high assertion and high empathy.
Commitment. Team members need complete clarity on what's being agreed (PEAK model useful for this) and all buy-in to the approach. There must be no 'daylight' between senior teams once a decision on action has been made.
Accountability. Teams hold one another to account (peer to peer) on both their agreed behaviours and their part of the plan.
Results. Progress is measured carefully to ensure traction and fed back into the decision-making cycle.
Lencioni's other key insight is senior leaders should view their horizontal ‘up & out’ team as their primary team. The success of this team is prioritised over the success of any one ‘down and in’ functional team. This is counter to common perception (and not helped with the majority of compensation frameworks which focus on individual or functional success), but it is of absolute importance. Once senior teams view their ‘up & out’ as their primary team, decisions are made which are best for the organisation. There is agreement across functions on what it important and this helps to reduce the damage often caused by functional leaders building up their silo’d fiefdoms.
A lesser known - though arguably more comprehensive and research-based - framework is Gordon Curphy’s Rocket Model.
Context. What is the situation? What facts do we know; what assumptions are we making?
Mission. What do we need to accomplish?
Talent. Who is in the team? Do we have the right people in the right jobs?
Norms. What are our behaviours and ways of working?
Buy-in. Engagement and commitment of all team members.
Resources. Does the team have all it needs to deliver?
Courage. Constructive conflict is present as is the confidence of team members to engage and contribute.
Results. Consistent objective measuring of progress and success to continually improve.
As you can see, there is a fair overlap of behaviours and ways of working across both models though Curphy’s is our preferred.
Our work at Albany Peak
Before we work with a team and look at specific behaviours, however, there are some subtle (though critical) steps required before a journey to high performance can begin. These are based on acknowledgement and commitment.
There must be an acknowledgement on behalf of all team members that:
They are a member of the team
The team’s efforts combine into a collective output
The effectiveness of the team’s collaboration determines this output
All members must then actively commit to continuously improving their collaboration. This commitment and focus on continuous improvement is the key step in becoming high performing. If the team has a consistent mindset of looking for ways to improve, their output can only increase. These steps may seem obvious or too nuanced to matter, but they are critical.
If you'd like to learn more, book a call.