“High-Performance” used to describe race-car engines and elite athletes. Now it is an aspiration for Corporate Managers.
Here we give you an overview of the five essential ingredients for creating and sustaining high performing teams and a practical tool for implementing it within your company or organisation. A prism refracting light into its constituent elements is our metaphor.
For decades big companies have been paying business school professors, psychologists and consultants huge amounts of money to uncover and codify the secrets to building high-performance teams.
The New York Times Magazine documented Google’s quest to build the perfect team, (2016), spending millions of dollars collecting information and dissecting every aspect of its employees' lives in an effort to transform productivity.
According to a study by Harvard Business Review, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more in the last two decades. So the obsession with building the perfect team should come as no surprise.
Even Linked In Learning has a Harvard Business School short video course on "Teams and Teaming." The course advises team members to "speak up, collaborate, experiment and reflect," which is fine. But we think they can do more:
Seek ways to insert tangible positivity, actively respect differing views, proactively include others, practice being more self-aware and capture the "Leadership Moment." (More details on these below)
While there are countless professors, researchers and consultants with their own theories on creating high performing teams (just Google it), we believe our direct and unadulterated observations of teams working in the field gives us a unique advantage.
Our "research" is in real life, on complex field projects at the forefront of globalisation, working with truly international cohorts of business managers.
At GIFT, we have spent the last decade watching literally hundreds of newly formed teams work on scalable business challenges that push them far outside their comfort-zones.
Imagine a team of four people with wildly different cultural, personal and professional backgrounds:
Now imagine this unlikely quartet, having met only a few days prior, has been assembled in Phnom Penh, along with four other equally eclectic teams, with seven days to develop a business model that can help fundamentally restructure the country’s ailing rice sector.
If ever high-performance was needed, this was the time
It may sound like a far-fetched scenario but it is exactly what happened during the 49th Global Leaders Programme (GLP), and the outcome showed once again that the key ingredients for high-performance are consistent regardless of environment, backgrounds or desired outcome.
In the end, five teams produced a breakthrough business model in support of the local country partnership in Cambodia for Grow Asia, a collaboration of the World Economic Forum and ASEAN Secretariat. We believe it will be hugely influential in the region.
But some teams, particularly the one mentioned above, exceled, while others faltered. Why?
In our view that elusive high-performance dynamic can only be created and sustained if every individual is attuned to these key elements and able to intervene skillfully at the right times.
Based on years of similar experiences, we crystallised this concept into the High-Performance PRISM, a physical tool to promote team engagement.
It features the five elements on its colorful side panels, allowing team leaders and team members to offer input and feedback through the use of sticker dots on each panel. It helps inspire interventions any time someone feels one of the ingredients is missing. It anchors the principles and habits of how to drive high performance.
Here is a short synopsis of the PRISM elements:
First, reframe leadership as: any action, large or small, that has a positive impact on moving the team towards its intended goal. Positivity has been proven to provide a wider field of vision as well as a wider repertoire of behaviours. Research has also shown that a healthy dose of constructive negativity can actually improve team performance! Obviously not the toxic negativity that manifests in personal attacks and unconstructive criticism. The courage to challenge assumptions and biases in a constructive way keeps the team honest and focused on achieving best possible outcome.
Unfortunately, the rigid hierarchy hard-coded into many large companies is more effective at breeding fear than respect. On the contrary, high-performing teams are made up of individuals who have an innate respect for each other and the diversity of ideas, values and opinions of others. Indeed, this diversity of thinking - much more important than diversity of colors - is also a key factor in high performance. To support the active expression of diverse ideas, respect is essential.
A lot of lip service is paid to the importance of inclusivity, but teams generally struggle to put it into practice. Engaging others who are not comfortable asserting their opinions requires sensitivity and refined communication skills. Politely telling those who are too vocal and drowning out everyone else to kindly shut up for a few minutes requires even greater skill. Ensuring that everyone on the team is engaged and given an opportunity to voice their opinions is critical.
Self-awareness is intimately linked to the other key elements of high performance. It is the ability to sense how others are perceiving you and to proactively manage their impressions and the signals you are sending. Humility is essential. It earns team members credibility and builds relationships based on trust and respect. It allows one to know when to assert an opinion strongly and when to back off, for the greater good of the group. Self-awareness neutralises the all-too-common scourge of bad body language. It allows one to read the atmosphere and to perhaps take a break to reduce the stress or seek external help when needed. High performing teams are those whose members are acutely aware that their actions, speech and body language profoundly affect those around them.
The "Leadership Moment" is an extremely important concept which our facilitators and mentors emphasise. The Moment is the opportunity when action must be taken to move the team closer to its goal, in any way, however big or small. We’ve all been there: a pointless discussion goes on and on; a bad idea and no-one speaks up; the person running the meeting is putting everyone to sleep but no one challenges. Team members must identify and seize these leadership moments, as they are by definition time sensitive. You must be fast - they come and go in a flash! Knowing how and when to intervene, amidst a dynamic, complex or even stressful process, is the key to mastering this element of the PRISM.
There is much more we could say about the principles of high performing teams. The PRISM is a tool to be experienced in practice, followed by real-time feedback to encourage positive behaviour change. Although we have in this post, only scratched the surface of these important principles, we hope you have learned something useful to apply in your own teams.
Get in touch to learn how our alumni are applying the PRISM back in their own teams. Join an upcoming programme to practice with the PRISM on a real project.
GIFT also offers workshops on the full Leadership Toolkit, which have been developed and are deployed on all Global Leaders Programmes (GLP).