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Emergence – What is Now Needed for Leadership Teams to Become High Performance Teams

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by Bruce Hodes, CEO of CMI Teamwork Chicago and author of “Front Line Heroes 

Like those old scary movies… creature from the black lagoon.  Moonlight on the water, ripples small at first. Then you see a head, then neck, shoulders, a trunk emerges, all covered in black yucky goo, smelling putrid and sulfuric. The creature is covered in wretched mud, dripping stinky black slime, standing on the bank gazing outward. That is how I feel. That is exactly how I think I look. Only I am emerging from the pandemic.

Now imagine a group of creatures, dripping, stinking, and standing on the bank, male, female, big and small – about seven give or take and you have what company leadership groups look like as they emerge from the pandemic and take their first steps in dealing with the new reality.

It has been tough for many organizational leadership teams. In the beginning of the pandemic many companies experienced immediate slowdowns and uncertainty going from a growing company to a shrinking company. There was getting and managing PPP. This was harrowing and untested ground!

Slow business growth and emergence began in early summer and has continued throughout the year. We got used to working at home and working remotely and Covid protocols. This was spiced up by employees and leadership team members getting and dealing with Covid. Sometimes there were shutdowns, certainly there were quarantines and periodic, unexpected deaths. There was one challenge after another after another.

Today many leadership teams have not been with each other physically for over a year. Vaccines are occurring – I got mine- but what does it really mean? Is everyone getting vaccinated? Can we mandate that all employees get vaccinated? Can we hire only vaccinated people? Can we come to work like normal? When do masks come off and under what circumstances?

The federal government is predicting 6.5% growth starting in the summer… Is that something you and your company are ready for? What planning do you need? Part of that question is answered by asking is your company’s leadership team ready for the growth opportunity that is arising? Is your organization’s leadership team ready to emerge from “we survived the pandemic” to having the organization positioned for growth and health in the new emerging world?

The answer lies in, is your company’s leadership team really a high-performance team and prepared to lead in this new era?  Frankly, is the leadership even willing to contemplate that it is a new era? The answer to this question will determine the short-term success of your organization as we emerge. What follows are thoughts and ways to diagnose and improve your leadership team in winning at this new game.

As a business coach, I have heard business leaders refer to many groups as “teams.” I typically cringe, hyperventilate and get a rash when I hear the word because it is usually not an accurate description of the group. I have found it useful to distinguish leadership groups from leadership teams.

Team performance does not just happen. It is not a function of the right combination of personalities or luck; despite what conventional wisdom and typical business pop psychology might have you believe. The following are components that are critical to growing and developing leadership groups into high-performance leadership teams. Much of my thinking here has been influenced by the book, “The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization” by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith.

First, members of high-performance work teams have a common agenda that all members subscribe to and support. These are typically documented, and progress is reviewed and coached usually in at least a weekly manner. For leadership teams that are emerging powerfully and entering the second quarter of 2021 this means they have a plan. No kidding! They are out to cause specific actionable results and they have action plans to support their goals.

Secondly, teams do not spring up by voodoo, and/or magical thinking. It is a focus on team performance and an agreed-upon appreciation of what this means that allows a leadership team to get results. The good communication and good relationships are an outcome and result of a team that is performance driven.

Thirdly, high-performance leadership teams are “a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and a working approach.”

Real teams have members of the team who are mutually accountable for the results. This point of being mutually accountable for the results is critical to the success of the leadership team because it calls for mutual coaching and support between all members of the team. This is different from what happens in Leadership Groups where acceptance of mediocrity and avoiding conflict is rampant.

I am seeing two things.  ome leadership groups are feeling their way and seeing what occurs as vaccine rolls out and the variants spread. The leadership teams are not waiting. They are making the bet that health and growth are returning and running down that road with a focused agenda. They are implementing and out in front of the emerging reality.

High-performance leadership teams develop in stages. By teaching these stages, groups can be asked to identify which stage they are in. Once the team has aligned on where it is, have the group design the necessary steps for reaching the next stage. Again, this exercise is valuable for allowing the team to focus on growing, developing, and normalizing their struggles and challenges.

The stages are as follows:

Stage A.

The exciting stage. This is the birth of the team that is still a group, and there is typically excitement and anticipation about the team’s potential and possibility. There is an uncertainty, but there is also optimism.

While a leadership team may have worked together for years, they may find themselves at this stage post pandemic. They have been separated for a time, the rules of working have altered, and they have been focused on survival. Like the creatures at the beginning of the article they are standing on the bank looking outward. There is optimism spiced with uncertainty as they look to the future.

Stage B.

The “poop hits the fan” stage is when reality sets in about the challenges facing the group and the organization. New group life can be hard and demanding. It is no longer fun, and there is finger pointing between leaders. Silos are rampant. Mutual accountability is seen as an empty concept. Team members look at whom to blame for their bad results.

How do we bring the company back to our offices? If we have been open during Covid what changes do we make and when regarding our Covid protocol? What is our policy regarding the vaccine….do we make people get it or fire them…? What about our supply chain as our sales increase? How do we make sure we can be on time to our customers? What about hiring – are we facing a labor shortage and what do we do about it?  Are there now key hires that we need to go after and how are we onboarding them into the culture? As you can see there are some whopper challenges now facing leadership teams.

This “poop “stage is where most teams die. The leadership team needs to generate commitment to work through the inherent conflict surrounding these issues. This is also where the leader’s dedication to emerging powerfully from the pandemic is needed. Stage B is where focus and discipline are critical for success.

Stage C.

The “getting behind the game stage.” This is when everyone begins to align behind the company strategy and the leadership team performance in implementing the company strategy.  Discipline and focus arise when the group follows the same ground rules and work approach. For the first time, real team performance results are seen.

A clear agenda post pandemic is required for the leadership team and company. This needs to be transparent and coherently communicated to the organization. What I see from the successful leadership team is that there can never be enough communication. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and reward the right actions are the mantras of the successful high performance leadership teams.

Stage D.

This is the high-performance stage, where the team is using its group structure to produce remarkable results. The team is enthused about the opportunity for growth and health. They are realizing the possibility before the organization.

It is typical, at this stage, for the team to be recognized both internally by employees and externally by customers for the results that are being produced. The teams that I see that are high performance are out and about and doing visits and surveys with their customers. Leadership team members feel connected to one another. The team is winning their business growth and development game.

From doing the above process the leadership team aligns on what stage they are in. You can also use + or – to distinguish the stage you are in. Brainstorming occurs on how the team can improve and move to the next stage. There needs to be alignment on what actions are to be taken and follow up and accountability established.

What follows is another approach in helping a group diagnose where they are in becoming a high-performance team. This is taken from an audit contained in “The Wisdom of Teams“.

Even though most of us are familiar with high performance teams, we are imprecise in thinking about them. Imprecise thinking about high performance teams, however, pales in comparison to the lack of discipline most of us bring to potential high-performance team situations. Leadership Teams can significantly enhance the team’s performance by focusing on performance – not chemistry or togetherness or good communications or good feelings.”

As a starting point, think about the six basic elements of a high-performance team when you assess your leadership team’s current situation:

  1. Are you small enough in number and do you have a methodology of powerfully meeting and communicating?
  2. Do you have adequate levels of complementary skills and skill potential in all three categories necessary for team performance as you emerge into the new world?
  3. Do you have a broader, meaningful purpose that all members aspire to?
  4. Do you have a specific set of performance goals agreed upon by all? Are there action plans and champions and leaders accountable and acting on all the goals.
  5. Is the working approach clearly understood and commonly agreed upon? Are the goals monitored and updated frequently and shared with the entire group?
  6. Do you hold yourselves individually and mutually accountable for the team’s results?”

Answering these questions can establish the degree to which your leadership team functions as a real team as you emerge from the pandemic at this critical time. It will help pinpoint how you can strengthen your efforts to increase performance. Have your leadership team pick two areas in which you think you can improve. Which two areas provide the biggest bang for the buck if the team developed itself and improved?

This audit sets real standards and answering the questions will reveal the opportunities to improving your leadership team’s performance. Let the team think through and plan for actions they will be taking in these areas to improve their results. Facing up to the answers will accelerate the leadership team’s ability to develop, grow and become a high-performance team in this new business world.

A year ago, my company clients and myself were in free fall. Recall the news… scary, dire and overwhelming as everything canceled and locked down. Fast forward a year. We are no longer in free fall and we and our leadership teams are standing on the bank. Stinky yes, gooey yes and on solid ground.

These ideas are intended to be valuable and stimulating as you work to generate a high-performance leadership team. Do not postpone this work. Now is the time. Get cracking! Apply and utilize this material so that you can emerge powerfully from what we have been through. It is worth the effort. Let us know what you are up to and what you accomplish. We are eager to hear about your progress.

 

Since growing up in his family’s boating business to founding his company CMI, Bruce Hodes has dedicated himself to helping companies grow by developing high performance cultures. Bruce’s adaptable Breakthrough Strategic Business Planning methodology has been specifically designed for small-to-mid-sized companies and is especially valuable for family company challenges. In February of 2012 Bruce published his first book “Front Line Heroes“.