This article was based on episode 245 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
Building a high performance team is often viewed as the gold standard of team management. But what if we focused on team effectiveness instead? What if we measured how well the team was able to do its work and work together? This approach might offer us another way to assess and improve our teamwork.
David Gloss joins me to share the simple components that make up team performance. Dave is the head of Team Effectiveness at AIIR Consulting, leading a global practice dedicated to building high-performing and inclusive company cultures. He has worked with hundreds of senior leadership teams to identify the root causes of underperformance and low engagement. Here, he shares how to improve team productivity and culture through open communication, strategy, and thoughtful team-built language.
LOOK AT THE CULTURE/PRODUCTIVITY BREAKDOWN
David calculates team effectiveness through this fantastic equation:
Team Productivity + Team Culture = Team Performance.
The team at AIIR define each of these terms as follows:
Team Productivity: How efficiently and effectively the team gets work done.
Team Culture: How team members interact and relate to one another.
Team Performance: A team’s ability to maximize it’s potential and fulfill its purpose.
If your team has a strong culture and high productivity, it’s a high performing team. Way to go! Remember that even high performing teams can learn how to create more sustainable habits.
A strong culture but low productivity, creates a comfortable (but not as effective) team. To assess this, think how people feel after meetings. Do they feel energized after connecting with colleagues, but lack clarity on what the next steps are? Great relationships without alignment produce substandard results.
A weak culture with high productivity produces a team with high turnover and burnout. Consider if people are running to leave your organization. Contemplate how many team members come to you unsolicited to have meaningful conversation. Are you regularly finding yourself in the awkward position of “team mom” who needs to act as a therapist for team issues?
IMPROVE YOUR TEAM PERFORMANCE
The folks at AIIR have identified six areas for a team to improve, three subdomains for each of the two major components of an effective team. In my conversation with Dave, we touched on one essential component for productivity and one for culture.
How to Improve Team Productivity
To be strong at team productivity, you need to have alignment. Does your team have a shared understanding of purpose and priorities? Can they all answer the question “Why do we exist?”.
This is not about the mission of the organization, but the specific mission and role of your team. What is your team’s reason for being? How does your team contribute to the organization's purpose? Understanding this specific purpose sets the stage for everything else and eliminates many potential conflicts.
This clarity around the mission extends into clarity of priorities and plans. Take the time to ensure everyone is aligned on what matters most and how the team will work together to accomplish those goals.
How to Improve Team Culture
Improving culture has very little to do with happy hours and rope course team building events. While those types of gatherings may help from bonds between colleagues, they’re far from sufficient for fostering team culture. Dave suggests that we first identify our culture goals and the corresponding strategies to reach those goals. Then, we can consider if happy hours are the right tactic. If strengthening personal connections amongst team members is one of your goals, it very well could be.
As you reflect on your culture goals, ask yourself: What do we want it to look and feel like to be part of this team? Do we need to build more trust? Do I want people to feel a greater sense of belonging? Do we need to learn to communicate better during difficult moments?
Start with what you want, and then build out the strategy and tactics from there. Cultivating our work environment for openness, trust, and belonging means starting with that objective in mind before we design any interventions.
ASSESS TO UNDERSTAND
Unless you get honest answers from everyone on your team, you don’t have a clear picture of what’s really going on. You may believe that the team culture is amazing, but half your team might secretly disagree with you. You may have total clarity on the priorities while a few folks may have no idea what matters most.
Get collective and individual feedback from everyone on how they see the team. Focus on questions of alignment and sense of belonging. How well do they see your team learning/adapting/connection? How safe do they feel to bring up issues?
In addition to discussing these questions, your team can take AIIR’s Team Effectiveness assessment.
TRANSLATE INSIGHTS INTO ACTION
Once your team has a general sense of areas to improve, you can boil down these findings into manageable, actionable steps. One simple way is to create shared “code words” or operating principles for how to handle common situations that your team gets stuck in.
For example, Dave shared how one team he worked with struggled to speak honestly to each other. Their solution is to acknowledge the little voice in your head telling you to speak up. Now, if a teammate wants to be honest about something they’re thinking in their head but afraid to say out loud, they use the phrase, “I’m going to voice the voice”. This signals that they’re about to speak a truth that might be hard to say and/or hard to hear.
Team shorthands give people tools to disrupt old, ineffective ways of working so that you can quickly shift into more productive habits.
At the end of the day, if managers focus on team productivity and team culture, they are able to build an effective team. As your team grows and shifts, alignment of purpose and feeling comfortable and a sense of belonging in your team environment will be the necessary foundation to succeed.
KEEP UP WITH DAVE
Get access to a free AIIR Team Effectiveness Survey AND a 50% discount on the AIIR Team Effectiveness Certification when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 245 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.