In working with senior teams throughout the past 20 plus years, I am always struck that you can have eight men and women with individual IQs of 160, but their collective team IQ is 22.  It is as if somewhere they silently conspired to agree that harmony is high performance.  It is not!

For some reason those at the highest level as individuals become less capable when they work as a team. Something happens to these smart, driven, successful individuals that has them playing and performing together at three (or more) levels below their pay grade, and not having an impact or much fun doing it.

They often all know it, but no one is willing to break the silent go-through-the-motions march of team mediocrity….lest they stick out and make it more painful than it already is to take a disagreeing position by addressing the always present conflict that stays just below the surface of their interactions.

Just last week a very talented and experienced leader said to me: “When I first came here, I made a promise to myself I would never acquiesce, and then I did it”. When I asked why, he said it was easier to get along and go along than take a stand against the way things had always been done or challenge the positive story we tell ourselves that isn’t really true.

The resounding compromise that goes with acquiescing is that each leader starts to play for the name on the back of their jersey rather than for the name on the front. The rationale is ‘I will just become as good as possible for the specific things that I am accountable for or control, and I will make my areas of responsibility the best that I can’.

Of course, this act alone makes it a certainty they are well on the way to building the sturdiest silos… preventing the best strategic ideas from seeing the light of day. Inevitably, the people they lead feel like they are playing the children’s game “whack a mole” as they try to respond to the dozens of different “function first” priorities which quickly overwhelm them.

There is hope, but high performing teams at all levels are not natural occurrences. You have to rigorously work at it. Here are five ways you can elevate your team’s performance – starting now.

  1. Create Shared Truth Statements—The most common starting point for high performing teams is the act of telling each other the truth about the performance of the business and the team today. Most teams are not good at looking in the mirror. But, high performing teams develop a set of “shared truths” that are collectively agreed upon that define reality. Since the responsibilities of a leader are to define reality and create hope (and then act on it), success as a team gets even more elusive when a group of leaders fail to be good truth tellers. Be open and honest about your current reality, where you want to go and how best to get there. Then you can get everyone agreeing on these fundamental truths as a great way to start making change.
  2. Align on Underlying Beliefs—Beliefs drive behaviors –and when teams have different beliefs on how the business should be run, friction exists. Great teams make their underlying beliefs a top priority and actively work to get aligned so that decision-making and action is guided by the same set of standards or beliefs.
  3. Develop Behavioral Team Contracts—The best teams are comprised of people that don’t want to let their teammates down. They literally have “behavioral contracts” or ground rules that represent the standards of behavior for how they will work and interact together. These standards are managed with the same rigor as the P & L. On every occasion the team gets together they discuss how well they are collectively and individually living the behavioral ground rules. The best teams create a quarterly score card for their behaviors, track progress and decide on corrective action when they go off course.
  4. Own the Whole Before Your Piece—The challenge for great teams is building collective intelligence and execution efficiency by owning the whole before their individual piece. What I mean is, you’ve got to focus on the big picture needs of the organization before giving any thought to whatever individual department you run. The senior team has to be the first team, and the functional team or business segment has to come second. This means every senior leader sometimes has to sacrifice areas of significant importance to their function for the greater good of the enterprise. Together, the entire team must sharpen the focus of the business by prioritizing, integrating, and simplifying the initiatives for everyone in the organization.
  5. Make Shared Decisions By Thinking Together—One of the greatest traits of high performing teams is the act of thinking together. Many teams listen to each other simply in order to respond. Great teams listen in order to learn from each other and to think together. The keys to shared decision making by thinking together focuses on the senior team asking each other these questions and engaging in the issues as questions versus sparing on the answers.

You can start making these changes today with your team. All it takes is some ideas (which are here!), some time, some dedication and some open minds. Snacks and coffee are good, too.

August 31, 2016


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