High Performance Teams Conversations

Today I would like to look at a topic which involves some conversations that high performance teams must have. You may wonder what is meant by high performance teams? The definition that I like comes from Wikipedia and goes along the following lines

Teams or organizations that are highly focused on their goals and that achieve superior business results

An important part of high performance teams is the ability to communicate clearly and to ask the right questions. Below are some of the things that can be done to encourage your team and take them to another level.

  1. What is working well?
    In the Agile world, we have a retrospective at the end of every sprint and discuss various things, one of them being "What Worked?". The idea of this is to replicate what is working to replicate the successes.
    If you are joining a new team, it would be beneficial to take a step back and actually review what is working for them and to not simply impose your way of doing things. You need to adapt to the team and ensure that they are doing the best that they can do! One way to identify this is to identify what took place on a good day that gives the team a feeling of satisfaction.

  2. What is not working well?
    As with the Agile sample above, we also need to look at "What didn't work?" and try to rectify those issues. A way of asking this is to observe what happened on a day where people felt drained, frustrated and sometimes even wonder why they are on this team. By doing this you can easily identify the issues easier and correct them over time.

  3. What needs celebration?
    A mark of great teams is to celebrate the short term wins. Look at your team and identify some of the victories are that you have had. An important factor when doing this is to determine what the win would be as different people have different ideas of what this means.

  4. What are the expectations of the leader?
    There are two ways to approach this. You can either do it in a one-on-one session where you tell them that you want to have a discussion around what their expectations are or you can do it in a group setting.

    In the group scenario, you leave the room and get them to write down their expectations. By writing it down, there is less chance of the groupthink phenomenon coming into play. A good technique to use for this is the "stop/start" method, where you write down what they should stop doing and what they should start doing.

    Once the leader is back in the room and you have gone over all the items, you can then ask the team what you would like them to continue doing. In this way, it ends on a high for everyone as the team members have expressed their feelings and the leader can take those into account as well and get a good vibe about all the things that they are doing right. One important thing to note is to ask them to express their expectations in terms of behaviours (Think of it as the actions that can be recorded) so it isn't vague and they know exactly what must/mustn't be replicated.

  5. What is the leaders way?
    Whenever you lead a team is is really important that you talk to them about some of the aspects that you like. To help you come up with these, you can ask yourself this simple question "What are some of the people that you have worked with and what was it about them that you really liked?" Some of these answers could be things such as taking responsible, reliable, high quality of work and proactive.

    Then you can take the opposite approach and identify things that you didn't like about certain people. That list may contain things like people who need constant reminders, faking what they know, not being able to communicate in a timely manner or having meetings after the meeting. By identifying these things, you learn to understand what your style is and what you like and don't like.

  6. What are the gaps?
    For this question, you ask your team the following questions and you will get a good idea of where the cracks are.

    • "If we were to grow this team, how would we grow it?"
    • "What skills do we need?"
    • "What are the gaps in our own expertise?"

    An important thing to remember is that you also need to look at the softer skills and see what you are lacking there. These may be things like improving confidence, improving the brand of the team or even having more extroverts or introverts. Like I have said before, the softer skills play a big role, sometimes a bigger role than technical ability.

  7. What value does each member bring?
    In this scenario, each individual team member should be able to state what particular value they bring to the team and it shouldn't be related to their job description. You should try to focus on moreo f the softer skills such cheering up the team by making them laugh, bringing a sense of calm during stressful situations or keeping the team focused.

    After the team member has stated their values, it is quite beneficial to allow the other team members to state what they also think the person brings to the team. In that way it may open up the team members eyes so that get a chance to see what other people appreciate about them and then in turn they might try to do more of the particular item.

  8. What are the communication dos & don'ts?
    This point goes hand in hand with the point above in that each member should state what their communication preference is, be it personal communication, a phone call or email. You could also mention things like preferring summaries as opposed to detailed descriptions. This goes hand in hand with the Insights posts, where you can also determine with fairly good accuracy what communication style they like, based on their colour profile.

  9. What are your stress signals?
    In a high performance team it is important that each person explains the following about their stress:

    • Stress signals - How do we know when you are stressed?
      This is quite an eye opener as in many cases people will realize things they often misunderstood about you. For example, you may tend to be very quiet or withdrawn when you are stressed but people may see it as you being rude, or you may be the complete opposite and talk a lot to people when under stress. This brings an understanding to the team so that each team member knows when you are stressed.

    • Stress triggers - What are the things that cause the stress?
      Examples of these could be things like have deadlines which you know will never be met or the feeling of helplessness in a task that you are given. It could even be things like feeling out of control in a situation.

    • Stress remedies - How do you deal with the stress?
      This is how you cope with the stress and may involve things like going for a walk and just getting your mind off the situation. Some common things that you will hear people saying is that they eat more, listen to music or pray.

  10. What single thing would impact us the most in having the greatest success?
    I often like saying that without a goal, you have nothing to aim for! Essentially, this is what you are doing here. You are finding out the best thing you can do as a team, to have the biggest impact. In doing this you are setting a goal so that each team member knows what they are aiming for. It is also important that you try set a time frame to this goal, so it doesn't become a wishy-washy thing. Another interesting point is that this is not only something you can apply to a team setting, but in your personal life as well.

  11. What are the team values?
    This is another really important factor in leading a team. Often the various team members will have different values such as being professional, focusing on results or trust and mutual respect. Again, it is important that you express these values in behaviours by being able to describe actions that can be recorded on a camera, so that everyone can know what a particular value looks like. Essentially, you need to ask questions like what would respect or trust look like if it were to be filmed. Examples of these may be things like not using profanity or replying to emails or phone calls. It could also be things like allowing people to express themselves without being domineering or raising their voice.

    Different values may also look different for the different team members, so it is important that each person clarifies what a particular value may be to them. For example, respect may be arriving on time for a meeting for a particular person, but for someone else it may mean having a civil discussion.

    A nice way of approaching this is to have the team get together and write each value on different pages of a flip board. Once you have done this, you can then list the behaviours of people whom exhibit this behaviour as well as the behaviours of people whom are not so experienced with it.

  12. How do we embed team culture?
    Simply stated, the way you embed culture is by what you teach and what you model as a leader. You can also embed culture by what you reward and what you celebrate. For example, if someone exhibits a particular value that you deem important you should be open about it and champion them about what they have done.

Measuring things that are important to the team is another way of creating culture. Another point to take into account is that when you hire someone to join your team, you should have certain criteria by which to evaluate them. Culture is always created intentionally and not be accident.

In asking the above questions, you will hopefully manage to get to a point where you team is running a like a well oiled machine. If you would like to add to any of these, you can write a comment in the section below.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa