Shift January 08, 2019

The holy grail of high-performing teams

Christophe Rosseel

Client Services Director

Emma Braeye

HR / Talent Manager

If you’ve ever been a part of a great team - be it in sports, leisure or business - you’ll recognize that they can have a transformational effect. High-performing teams get their members to contribute at the maximum of their potential and enable them to get better along the way.

More and more companies are recognizing that teams, not individuals, drive business value. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings drove the point home in a presentation about his company’s culture where he explained that there is no room at Netflix for what he called ‘brilliant jerks’: “Some companies tolerate them. For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high.”

Whether you agree with Hastings or not, the fact remains that forward-thinking companies are making major efforts to design organizations in a way that allows great teams to flourish. Hiring top talent is only one part of the equation; a team of all-stars doesn’t automatically make an all-star team.

Let’s take a look at what an organization can do to help teams flourish.

Make teams autonomous again

Autonomy is one of the reasons why small start-ups can outperform big companies. Start-up teams aren’t slowed down by processes, compliance, legal or board reviews, making them more engaged, quicker to learn and more likely to successfully respond to change.

Unfortunately you cannot simply ask teams to become autonomous without any implications for the rest of the organization. First you need to give teams a mandate and a vision. Instead of telling them what to do, give them a problem to solve. Ideally this problem should be mapped to the value stream so the team can make an impact on the company’s bottom line.

The key principle behind autonomous teams is that the organization dele- gates authority as well as responsibility. Only these circumstances allow engagement to thrive and teams to be held accountable for their work.

At In The Pocket, the mandate of an autonomous team includes authority over the work, how it is done and who should do it (hiring and firing). Only the team purpose is a given that the team itself cannot alter.

High Performing Teams

Promote leadership

Call us old-fashioned but we believe teams should have leaders. While we’ve heard stories of mythical teams or companies that self-organize without a leadership role, we haven’t found any substantiated examples of high-performing teams that have shunned the leadership role altogether.

What has changed is the type of leadership. Not so long ago, hierarchical organisations were the norm, with line managers dispatching decisions and yearly evaluations to their underlings and reporting statuses to their managers.

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