Performance is a Team Sport, So Why Aren’t We Managing it that Way?
The C.E.O. Agenda: Balancing Caution With Pragmatism in 2023-24
If teams had a superpower, then it would be Ways of Working (WOW). That is the ability to optimize and refine how it works as a team. This self-organizing and self-optimizing potential of any team is vast, yet it goes largely untapped.
Teams have WOW power! That is the ability to optimize and refine its ways of working (WOW). In so doing the team can further the twin goals of better work and better life.
Clearly, a worthy goal is to boost collective performance – doing more and better work as a team. But, equally important, is making the work more enjoyable and rewarding for its members. Also, bringing out the best in each other and reducing the inevitable stresses and strains of work.
It is no accident that the initials of Ways of Working are ‘WOW – because the potential impact is literally WOW! What teams can achieve by optimizing and refining the way they work is enormous.
It is difficult for any other skills, effectiveness or productivity initiative to match WOW in terms of the sustained impact on either the performance or the health of a team.
The self-organizing and self-optimizing potential of any team is vast, yet it goes largely untapped. This is largely because teams are unaware of the power that they have.
Much of the way a team works has simply evolved – from the endless succession of meetings to the way information is shared, or the nature of the interactions among team members.
Now, with leaders spending 70% of their time on internal collaboration1, it is time they took back control over ways of working within their teams:
- To reduce volume of meetings
- To tackle any source of waste and inefficiency
- To clarify roles and responsibilities and better manage handovers
- Tackle any frustrations and manage the level of pressure or stress
- To reduce the amount of time spend doing low value work
- To optimize interactions and reduce the number of interruptions
- Create a more supportive work environment that brings out the best in each other.
If you are at the top of the organization then what is happening there is obviously the most important thing. But if you are anywhere else, then it is what happens within your unit or team that has likely the greatest impact on your day-to-day experience of work / your working life.
In other words, your team (the people you interact with on an ongoing basis) are the center of your world at work.
‘The team is the sun, the moon, and the stars of your experience at work.’
Marcus Buckingham & Ashley Goodall 2
What happens within our teams is more important than what happens in the boardroom, with the corporate strategy or the corporate culture.
It has most direct and immediate impact / relevance to us in our daily lives. It shapes our ways of working, as well as key factors such as performance, job satisfaction and well-being much more than we realize. Moreover, it is something that we can directly influence.
Shaping Our Work
We often hear leaders say ‘if only the organization would do this, or do that’. Their work experience is dependent on C-suite decision-making, changes in organizational culture, shifts in strategy or the adoption of new ways of working. But, the reality is that what happens on our teams is more important than any of these things. That is good news because, unlike organizational strategy, it is something we can shape.
‘Ways of Working is a powerful way of reducing the number of ‘IF ONLY’ moments within your team’ in the words of one of our coaching team. ‘That is those moments when your team feels disempowered and not in control – when it is looking for others to fix its problems or giving its power away’.
It is worth repeating: Teams are the primary vehicle through which we experience our organizations and our work. Moreover, that experience is more within our collective control than we think.
Hidden Executive Power
Executives have more control than they think over the set-up of their team and the organization of their work. They can be creative within any given structure, tweaking and adapting the Way We Work as a team:
- People can find the best roles for team members and ensure that people ‘play to their strengths’.· This can be done without re-drawing the organizational chart or changing job titles.·
- They can prioritize and allocate work in the most efficient way possible, to meet the deadlines and deliverables expected of them.
- They can find the best way of working together as a team, without having to re-shape the culture or norms of the organization.·
- Experiment with new approaches as well as new processes and tools, without calling on the corporate IT department for help3.
- Be agile and responsive to change, tweaking the plan to reflect changing conditions and greater knowledge.· They can continually review what is working and what is not, thereby adapting the approach to get the best results.
- Most of the everyday improvements that team’s might want to make to how they organize and structure their work are already within their grasp.
Without getting approval, most teams can optimize how they:·
- Organize, prioritize and allocate their work· Meet to discuss or review the work· Interact in doing the work
- Shape how the team and its work is seen by the outside world· Interact with the rest of the organization – presenting a united front and a consistent message to stakeholders
- Tackle many of the impediments or frustrations that they face in getting the work done.
- Optimize the environment that they are working in.
Most important of all, team members get to determine how much of their talent, creativity and skill they bring to their work.
There’s a lot that teams can’t control. But there is no point in focusing there. High performing teams know what they can and cannot control. It may not be able to control the market, the culture, structure or strategy of the organization. Yet, teams are far from powerless. They have control over their ways of working and specifically how they work as a team.
Most teams also have the power to find the best way to:
- Bring out the best in each other· Leverage and develop each other’s unique talents, interests and skills
- Live the values and norms that they espouse· Foster an environment that is supportive, promotes growth, drives performance and sustains well-being.
- Support each other in tackling the inevitable pressures and stresses of work· Foster an environment that is supportive, promotes growth, drives performance and sustains well-being.
- Support each other in tackling the inevitable pressures and stresses of work
- More courageously address issues of conflict and tension when they arise.
As the above lists suggests, there is a lot that a team can do. The first step is to for teams to realize that they have the power. The next step is to generate front-of-mind awareness of ways of working using a framework such as the 7Rs as a guide.
Leaders Have the Power
Leaders often say: We have the people, resources and rewards that are given! Moreover, the results we must achieve and the work that must be done has already been determined’. For example, they feel disempowered to do anything about the set-up or structure of their team, such as ensuring that the right people are in the right roles.
They may feel similarly disempowered to change ways or working or norms of behavior within their team – seeing it as part of the larger amorphous organizational culture and structure. All this unnecessarily robs leaders of the ability to use one of the most powerful levers of success – to optimize the Way We Work (as a team).
‘We feel good about things to the extent that we feel that they are within our control’ according to pop psychology. But a sense of empowerment and autonomy can really bring out the best in teams. It ‘puts people in the driver seat’, resulting in greater ownership and accountability.
A mistaken sense of helplessness strips leaders of one of the most powerful strategies and tools for performance, engagement and workplace vitality or wellbeing – that is their teams. To yearn for power and control is one thing, but to have power and not use it is another!
“The most common way people give up their power
is by thinking they don’t have any.”
The ‘way we work’ is something that is largely within the control of a team. That affords leaders a level of power greater than they might imagine over the twin goals of better work and better life. It is only when teams take control of the way we work that they can really thrive.
- Pitstop Analytics data 2022
- Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall, “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World”, Harvard Business Review Press, 2019.
- For example, thanks to software as a service all it takes to avail of the latest productivity tools is a monthly subscription rather than a capital investment spend