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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Improving Team Performance as a Team Member

There are numerous team performance strategies and team improvement practices. Many of them are very useful but they generally focus on what the team leader should envision, say, model, inspire, and accomplish. I’d like to take a different perspective and look at what team members themselves can do to improve their team’s performance.

What works best obviously greatly depends on the purpose of the team, it’s maturity, the context, and much more. I’d like to highlight a few factors that I have seen work across the board during my 22 years in the business of increasing team performance. Factors that every team member can take to heart and that they can influence to their team’s advantage.

Manage and lead yourself first
Know yourself, be aware of yourself, be honest with yourself, and be creative with your improvement goals and actions. I am referring to the much discussed Emotional Intelligence. How do you score? Do you know at all? Do you actively solicit feedback and really listen to what is being said about you? Before you can influence, let alone lead others, you have to lead yourself. Who is your sparring partner who? Who will really tell you what she sees and what she thinks about your assumptions, choices, behaviors, and results? How successfully do you reflect and redirect?

Learn to lead others
It’s known by now, I’m sure: You don’t have to be in a leading position to lead. Luckily not, otherwise there wouldn’t be too much leading going on in the world. In order to lead others in your team (read: inspire, motivate, stimulate), you have to learn about and tap into each team member’s values, dreams, goals, and fears. Yes, this means you have to really get to know each other and learn how to inspire commitment to work hard and smart. This means you have to know each other in order to find ways to support and energize your team members when things aren’t going well. Leading others starts with knowing and respecting others.

Identify, Live, and Enforce Core Values
Core Values are most often set by leaders in collaboration with their team, or so it should be. In every day life it’s the team that must make these values a reality in practice. It is you! So how do you life the identified values? Where do you get off course and with what consequences and adjustments? How do you help inspire and enforce your team’s values? Do you really hold yourself and each other accountable? This is another responsibility that in most organizations falls squarely on the leader. In a high performance team, however, you see mutual accountability at work. If a member of the team fails to deliver you don’t want the leader to have to intervene. You want the team to do that and you are part of that team. This is what makes a team a mature team. However, when holding yourself and team members accountable, make sure to identify and solve real problems rather than dancing around the hot pot and using distractions to shy away from what really needs addressing and improving.

Strive for continuous performance improvement
Complacency, satisfaction-overdose, and entitlements are devastating forces that are negatively related to team (and individual) effectiveness. Teams do not exist to create feel good situations. Leaders decide to invest in building great teams because great teams can enhance the organization’s performance significantly. Teams exist to make the enterprise more effective, flexible, innovative, and successful. If a team’s performance is not improving, the team must figure out why and resolve the issue. All teams are ultimately evaluated on their performance. Don’t let success be the breeding ground for complacency.

Get comfortable with tension, conflict, and team rivalry
The other side of the coin called team rivalry is that it weeds out inefficiencies, it keeps people focused, and it fuels the natural competitive nature of high performers. As Mark de Rond tells us: “Don’t confuse what things feel like, with what they really are… Differences of opinion are not just inevitable - They are useful and they are crucial”. They inspire new ideas and ways of doing things and they unravel blind spots and groupthink, all leading to more and better results. What team member or leader wouldn’t want that?

What have you done lately to improve the performance of the team(s) that you are a member of? 

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