High Performance Team Working – Breaking the “Log Jam” with Senior Teams


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It is surprising that many senior leadership teams, even those that are quite mature, do not take advantage of one of their greatest opportunities for improving their effectiveness: confronting the behaviours of the people who comprise the team. Team work is a dynamic that needs to be nurtured and evolves through the active input and ownership of the whole team.

Everyone knows about the importance of team development but do they understand the importance of maintaining healthy teams once they have been developed and matured? In Forum, we believe there are three stages of team development:

  1. Membership
  2. Control
  3. Cohesion

Most of the time, mature teams are moving between control and cohesion stages; re-contracting around who has influence and control, how they will handle conflict, how they will proactively measure results and thinking about how they can improve the way they work as a team. The diagram below outlines the types of questions asked at each stage. If the team does not have explicit alignment around the control issues then they will find cohesion difficult, i.e. they won’t build the open, honest and trusting relationships that are necessary to drive high performance or progress to the next level. They get log jammed in the control stage.

log jam image 1Senior teams evolve their working practices over time and these are strongly influenced by the level of open commitment to the team process modeled by the team leader. A leader’s behaviours and actions strongly influence the team climate. For example, if a leader does not encourage the team to regularly to review how they work together and make adjustments, then the team will default to focusing exclusively on task and business accountabilities. Their own development will take a backseat.

Without explicit leadership of the team work process, people find ways of getting by or coping, such as not providing feedback, not managing conflict, silo behaviours, poor communication, not speaking up, not sharing or collaborating, etc.Any of these behaviours can be real barriers to effectiveness, and thus the team performance levels off and results plateau.

Senior teams need agility to navigate the complexity they deal with every day and a key component of this is an explicit and aligned team process, that has everyone’s buy-in  and commitment; most senior teams assume this is in place.

The key to unlocking this potential for higher performance is twofold: The sponsorship of the team leader and the focus of the team. Sometimes teams need to go backwards to go forwards and if the sponsor is prepared to take some time to encourage the team to have some strong conversations and get to know the people behind the roles, then they are starting to clear the log jam. When helping senior teams break this potential log jam we have found that it is important to gather data on different perceptions of the team. This helps them focus on how team members experience the team and allows behaviours and emotions to be examined openly by the team under the guidance of a strong facilitator.

Role models of high performance team effectiveness need to be cascaded throughout the organisation so that teams can cross-functionally collaborate more effectively and drive the business outcomes with agility. Below is a general process map we created for working with intact senior and functional teams to help them break the log jam and cascade this approach through their business.

log jam image 2

So if you want to break the team working log jam with senior teams you will need an engaged sponsor who will support each step in the process. You will also need to understand the teams effectiveness issues which are often linked to their team development stage, and gather a range of perceptions about the team’s effectiveness to help you focus team actions once the log jam starts to break. You need to bring the team together and agree some ground rules and then have a structured experience that opens up the issues and embeds the framework for leading high performance. You will also need a strong facilitator who can get beneath the issues and behaviours through contracting with the team and who can sense when to hand back the team process and accountability for key behaviours to the team so they can own the journey forward whilst achieving a new level of cohesion.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Robertson
Based in the U.K., David Robertson joined Forum in 2000. With more than 25 years' experience in the learning and development and performance environment, he has supports our solutions design team and our customers as both a Designer and an Executive Consultant. David is passionate about working with customers to create effective solutions and systems that drive real business results and help them achieve their strategy.


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