Earlier this week, I was talking to two company executives about strengthening team performance. They had already put substantial effort into this area and they were not getting results at the desired levels. Specifically, they had trained a large portion of the workforce on expected behaviors of team members and developed ways to measure demonstration of these behaviors. As they measured the impact of their efforts over time, two disappointing findings emerged:
- The targeted behaviors were not reflected in meaningfully improved team performance.
- While they saw some improvement in lower level teams, the performance of more senior teams did not really change.
As they reflected on these findings, they reached two key conclusions which are now guiding revisions to their approach:
1. To improve teams you need to work with teams. This may seem obvious to some, but it often isn’t. Many organizations embed desired behavioral training in their learning programs and measure the demonstration of these behaviors in individual performance evaluations. While this individual “competency-demonstration” approach has its benefits, it is not effective at teaching and reinforcing team behaviors. Only by learning expected team behaviors in a team setting will leaders and other team members grasp the interactive requirements and subtleties which really define how these behaviors work and should be applied within teams.
2. All teams will model behaviors of the senior leadership team. No matter how much energy and expense is devoted to organizational team improvement, if the senior leadership team does not model the desired team behaviors, these behaviors will not stick. On the other hand, if the senior leadership team is first to change and demonstrate the new behavioral standard for the organization, the positive impact will quickly cascade through the organization to teams at all levels.
If you want to improve team performance, start at the top and work your way down through the organization. In all cases, work directly with teams, starting with the leader and then engaging the full team.