Leading To Create Great Team Performance

Dusty Staub      Wednesday, June 20, 2018

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Great teams are forged in the fires of meaningful performance and worthy challenges.  Leaders can engage in practices and processes that serve to create high performance teams.  In fact, skillful leadership is critical to the formation, sustainability and growth of such teams.  Over the past thirty years in working with more than 200 organizations and thousands of teams, we have discovered the keys to powerful leadership methodologies and practices that generate great teamwork at all levels of an enterprise.  


The six tried and true keys to creating great teamwork are:


  1. Focusing on essential purpose-the meaning behind all of the work

  2. Generating trust, a sense of openness and safety to speak up

  3. Dividing and empowering processes to double the valued output in half the time

  4. Engaging substantive issues

  5. Outlining clear accountability

  6. Being flexible, keeping an open mind and open heart


Focusing on Essential Purpose:

People get excited about and engage more when they feel they are contributing to something significant and meaningful.  Great leaders help team members to focus on the essential purpose behind all of the work being done. This was first highlighted in the first edition of The Heart of Leadership in 1996 by Staub and more recently popularized in Simon Sinek’s great TED Talk on the power of WHY (“Great companies focus on their WHY” while others focus on the what and how of their business).  Are you keeping the core WHY of your business in the front and center in your team meetings and work-up sessions?



Generating Trust:

A team can only perform well if there is a high level of trust.  Our experience over the years and now the confirming recent research on teams coming out of Google demonstrates that psychological “safety” is the critical ingredient to strong team performance.  This means feeling it is safe to speak up, share wild ideas, make a mistake, ask a “foolish” question or feel respected and valued. Without this sense of safety, of being invited to participate due to a sense of high trust, a team will quickly devolve into a group, or even worse, a committee!


Dividing and Empowering:

This practice focuses upon breaking a larger group into smaller sub-teams, enhancing communication, increasing participation and telescoping time.  This allows the team to cover more ground and get more accomplished in less time. We have found in our client organizations that you can get twice as much done in half the amount of time when you have a team motivated by a sense of purpose, trust and they become adept at “dividing and empowering.” The key here is mixing and remixing the sub-groups while always coming back to the larger team to share insights and ideas with the whole team. Discussions with then focused sub-groups breaking off to get real work done and then re-engaging the whole team to share outputs for further insights, suggestions and improvements.  



Engaging Substantive Issues

Working on issues of substance gives a team the experience of getting something of importance accomplished in the “real

time” of the meeting.  This is highly motivating and enhances the sense of pride in the team and of being able to get things

done.  Some guidelines are: Having the team develop a list of important and key topics; choosing a meaningful

topic/issue to actively work on in the “divide and empower” breakouts, clearly define the desired end product and

then facilitating to achieve timelines, deliverables and reflect on team learning.


Outlining Clear Accountability:

It is important that the team know who has taken what on and when it is supposed to be addressed, reported back

on or delivered.  The guidelines here are: list the assignments and the process owners or champions for the work; get a

delivery or report back date by each assignment; question and ensure that the timelines are realistic; agree on who and how

the work will be monitored, ensuring clear accountability.


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Be Flexible: Keep an Open Mind and Open Heart:

A non-judgmental attitude and genuine sense of caring about the needs and interests of the team and its members is key to

creating a sense of safety and openness.  Some guidelines to help with this are: stay alert and work to see the best side of all

involved; confront non-productive behavior with a clear, firm, yet respectful tone; when in doubt, describe the behavior and

ask for the team’s help and input in addressing it; reframe situations and perspectives to generate win-win options, finding a

way to affirm an individual as well as the team; make use of insights from improvisational theater by using “Yes, And” to build

on ideas and generate positive team momentum.  Finally, don’t be afraid to deviate from the game plan in order to meet the

emerging needs of the group. This means facilitating at the interest horizon of the team and builds a sense of power and

overall effectiveness.




Author writing with support from Farrow Communications




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