Managing the performance of teams. Two critical dimensions

By: Sonia Ahuja


John is confused. He prides himself as being a fair and reasonably good manager. This is not his first assignment as a manager, but it is certainly turning out to be his most challenging. John had taken over the sales team almost six months ago. Performance at the time was not up to standard and although individual performance has improved over the last six months, John just cannot get his sales people to work as a team. What is he missing out on, or not doing so well?

Whenever you are put in charge of a "team", the first question that must be answered is, "Is this a genuine team or merely people grouped together (perhaps for organisational convenience) and labelled a team?" What makes a group of people a real team? Simple answer: a common goal.

Here's a practical example that may help you decide whether your current group of people is, or should be, a team. Picture for a moment the games of cricket and baseball. While they are somewhat different in their rules and the way each game is played (at least they both use a small, round ball), they do share some distinct similarities that require each game to be played by a team, not a group.

For instance in both cricket and baseball:

- Every member has to be able to bat - the team goal is to score more runs than the opposition.

- Every member has to be able to throw and catch a ball - they must all have at least a basic level of hand/eye coordination. The team goal is to restrict the opposition to as few runs as possible.

- Some members, as well as being able to bat, throw and catch, need to have specialist skills if the team is to be successful. In baseball, for example, it's the pitcher and catcher; in cricket it's the bowler and wicket keeper.

- In both games, teams can only be successful when every member of the team feels confident that he or she can rely on every other member of the team to make a competent contribution and do his or her job well.

In John's sales "team", they did not have a common goal. And each member could perform quite adequately and effectively without relying on the help of others in the group. There was nothing binding them together or motivating them to work as a team. John clearly was managing a group, not a team. Whilst he might be able to improve cooperation to some extent, it is clearly a waste of his time to try and turn them into a team.

If it's not quite clear whether your group is a real team, you can find out by answering the question, "What is the goal toward which the whole team is working and which cannot be achieved without the cooperation and support of all the members?"

Once you've decided that your group of people do have a common goal, it's time to set some performance standards or expectations. These should be both for individual team members and for the team as a whole. Both individual and team performance standards should include:

- A description of the expected behaviours. These are often known as "process measures"

- A description of the results required. These are known as "output measures"

Process and output measures for individual team members could include . . .

Behaviours (process) - whether or how well the team member:

- cooperates with team members o shares experiences with other team members

- proposes solutions to team problems

- communicates ideas during meetings

- participates in the team's decision-making processes

- steps in to help others in times of pressure or stress

Results (outputs) - for example, the team member's:

- quality of his/her written report of team results

- turnaround time for the individual's product / service (or contribution to product / service) needed by the team

- accuracy of the advice supplied to the team

- status of his / her service levels

Process and output measures for the team could include . . .

Behaviours (process) - whether or how well the team:

- runs effective meetings

- communicates well as a group

- allows all opinions to be heard

- comes to consensus on decisions

- shares the leadership as needed

- regularly evaluates the effectiveness of their meetings (process, not content)

Results (outputs) - for example:

- the customer (or other stakeholder) satisfaction rate with the team's product / service

- the percentage decline of team backlog items

- the cycle time for the team's entire work processes

In summary, performance measures need to be set for each team member and for the team as a whole. They should include both behaviours and results.

Here's an example of the areas where one manager set performance expectations for his team member:

- Function management (individual target)

- Project completion (individual target)

- Team collaboration (contribution to team)

- Knowledge development (individual target and contribution to team)

- Participation in maintaining team performance (contribution to team)

Each of these then had specific targets set (quantity, quality, time, cost) and were also given a ranking so that the team member knew the relative importance of each.

In the case of team performance standards, it is imperative to have the team come together to develop these. You can do this through running a team session to set the performance expectations. Here's a process that can assist.

Have each team member answer the following questions before the meeting and bring their answers to the meeting:

1. My team is made up of the following people . . .

2. The aim of my team is to . . .

3. We do this by . . .

4. The challenges we face are . . .

5. I would rate the current performance of my team as "successful", "somewhat successful" "less than successful" because . . .

6. I would now like to suggest that we set the following standards of performance for the team . . .

At the meeting reach consensus on the following: - Team aim - Current behaviours - Current challenges - Desired behaviours - Team performance standards - How we will measure our success - What we will do when individual team members are not meeting the standards

At the core of these concepts is the principle that team and individual performance can be improved and maintained when all involved know and agree on the required performance.

When both the manager and his/her people do indeed form a real team, they can work together to achieve their common goals. In John's sales group, he can now focus more on improving individual performance; one-to-one rather than one-to-team communication; and fostering greater cooperation across the group without the pressure to develop teamwork.

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