Every day, managers focus on achieving organizational goals and meeting bottom line expectations. When gifted with a high-performing team, the manager has the freedom to focus on driving action to deliver outcomes. However, when faced with a fractured team, the incremental work to achieve even the smallest tasks can be daunting. The daily balance between coaching performance, assigning work, and measuring outcomes quickly becomes unmanageable.
Check the Health of Your Team
Often there are signs that something isn’t right with a team. The manager has a gut feeling that things aren’t working. Team members share their concerns or complaints. Customers complain. Goals are not met, and management pressure is applied to achieving the defined outcome or defaults to requesting a different result. These are signs that something needs to be done and, possibly, quickly.
Creating a functional team begins with evaluating the effectiveness of the team. An investigation of the strengths and opportunities of team performance and team dynamics can be used to identify the health. This assessment can occur through reviewing metrics; having candid, honest discussions; and making observations. There are some clear signs that a team is fractured: inability to meet team goals, lack of trust between team members or between team members and management, or unhealthy conflict between team members.
While it may seem simple, the initial step is to manage the specific performance of every person on the team. Performance management is the set of activities that ensures that individuals have clear expectations paired with the skills and support to achieve those expectations. It concludes with accountability in meeting defined expectations.
Performance management starts with setting clear expectations for each team member, recognizing where goals are shared and where they are individualized. These goals need to be measurable and coherent. When employees do not understand what is expected, they are unlikely to perform accordingly.
Identifying strengths and skill gaps ensures that team members have the necessary skills to meet the expectations of the position. There are many tools and assessments in the industry that can be of use in this gap analysis. This can also be accomplished through a minimal self-assessment. Simply begin by asking employees their strengths and how their strengths are applied in their day-to-day activities. Continue by asking what is challenging and why (no exposure, limited experience, lack of skills, etc.).
Clear expectations and suitable skills must be paired with manager support to truly drive effective performance. Manager support begins with regular checkpoints covering tangible topics. A check-in meeting can be quick and powerful. It is a chance to connect on progress and potential roadblocks. Additionally, it is a prime opportunity to actively engage in knowing your team members. Ending these meetings asking the employee what is needed from you further instills the importance of the relationship and opens the dialog to topics important to the employee.
Further, performance management requires prompt handling of individual’s performance deficiencies. While this begins with focused assessment and coaching, when progress isn’t made it advances to direct, written feedback and even performance improvement plans as needed. While not easy to admit, when necessary, an employee exiting an organization may be best for the employee and the team. Sometimes, we need to help employees self-select whether their skills and aspirations are aligned to achieving the job expectations. Other times, employees may be paralyzed and a choice must be made for them.
The importance in managing performances has benefits well beyond optimizing the performance of individual team members. It also is also a key motivator for other team members. Believe it or not, employees can identify the top and bottom performers. Consistently allowing the freedom for one person to perform below expectations can become the norm for the entire team.
Create a Trust-Based Culture
Performance management is the stabilizing foundation for building a functional team. Building on that foundation is rooted in driving a trust-based culture. Trust happens when the environment is based on sincerity, reliability, and credibility. All three components must be present to consistently trust another.
Sincerity. What is your level of confidence that the other person has intentions that are appropriate for the situation? Is the other person open to a discussion, to changing, to new ideas, to feedback? Sincerity is the emotional response that gives you assurance that trust is present.
Reliability. How consistent is the other person in delivering on promises? Does he do what he says he will do? Is she accountable to deliver to expectations? Reliability emphasizes consistent actions that drive confidence in another.
Credibility. Does this person have the skills, abilities, and competence to accomplish the activity? Where the skills are not there, does the individual show the ability to learn and apply new concepts in different situations? Credibility focuses on current or developing capabilities.
Make a Difference
Managing a fractured team requires continual focus on the smallest details. The manager needs to be involved in the minute decisions to drive task completion. Investing a manager’s time to improving the performance of the team may result in a temporary step backward to turn momentum to moving forward.
Redirecting attention away from task management and to performance management and building a trust-based culture establishes the foundation for a functional team. Reality check: accomplishing these two straight-forward concepts requires a significant investment of a manager’s time, effort, and energy. The good news is that devoting efforts to team development pays off in two ways: the ability to achieve more through the team and maturation of managers into leaders.
Managers focus on task delivery. Leaders provide direction and a roadmap for reaching a destination. As a team improves in effectiveness and achieving outcomes, the manager will gain the freedom to rise above the tasks and lead the team to expected performance. The bonus result is the manager achieving individual goals and truly leading.
Taking teams from fractured to functional is essential to an organization’s ability to achieve stated goals and meet the expectations of its stakeholders. Allowing dysfunction gives permission to continue to deliver sub-optimal performance. Providing clear guidance in a trust-based culture is the first step to moving to a functional, high-performing team and building the leaders of the future.