Building a High-Performance Operations Team

on July 18, 2012
Leadership Transformation

In a blog I wrote last month, I talked about how it’s nearly impossible for an organization to be successful unless the leadership team has complete conviction on its strategy.  While that may seem obvious, more often than not, companies roll out strategies that they don’t believe will set them up for success.  I’m willing to go further out on the limb and make another obvious statement:  For an organization to be successful, it needs a high-performance operations team.   And of course, you’re thinking, “Well, duh.”  So let me elaborate.

According to Patrick Lencioni, the capabilities of highly cohesive and high-performance teams can be tracked to these five fundamental areas, the nucleus of creating a culture of discipline and execution:

  1. Building Trust – In many regards, this is more than just building trust.  It’s also about making it safe for people to be vulnerable. At the heart of this is the willingness to abandon pride and fear and sacrifice ego for the collective good of the team.  Vulnerability, shared vulnerability, and even public vulnerability are key to building trust.
  2. Mastering Conflict – Conflict without trust is politics, and politics is an attempt to manipulate others so you can win an argument regardless of the truth.  Trust and transparency are close cousins. Overcoming the tendency to run from discomfort is one of the most important requirements for any leadership team.  Teams must accept that they will be novices for a while and not dash back to what they’ve been good at for years.
  3. Achieving Commitment – The reason conflict is so important is that a team can’t achieve commitment without it.  Great teams avoid the consensus trap.  Not-so-great teams avoid disagreeing and commitment.  We actually help teams develop a “fight card” where the team puts the most critical issues “in the ring” and “battles” the issues to clarity.
  4. Embracing Accountability – At its core, accountability is all about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies, take a stand in the moment, and deal with their reaction – which may be unpleasant. This is especially true when it violates the standards that we’ve established as our “contract with each other” to lead this change.
  5. Focusing on Results – In many cases, leaders focus only on the results that their department or function is tasked with providing. This, of course, is the opposite of teamwork, and it’s often a challenge for any organization. Building trust, mastering conflict, and being accountable and committed are all in the service of one thing – greater results.

The bottom line is that the only way that leaders can establish the collective mentality of “Team Number One” is to ensure that all members place a higher priority on the leadership team than the team they lead in their departments/functions/zones/regions. Poor team leaders are more adept at advancing their own careers and protecting their own areas than building a great business for the future.

Many executives admit that, in spite of the commitment to their particular leadership team, the team they lead is their first priority. That’s totally understandable and natural, yet very dangerous. Why? Because if that’s how the team operates, Lencioni reminds us that the team becomes just like the U.S. Congress or United Nations – it’s just a place where people come to lobby for their constituents and they’re not a team at all. As a result, they’re not capable of running anything! Members must put the needs of the higher team ahead of the needs of the ones they lead. Only then will you have a high-performance operations team.

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