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The true cost of building high-performing teams

For those who accidentally scrolled past the huge news: last week, we launched the BLT (stands for business, leadership, tech) webinar series. From then on, we'll host a special monthly discussion of the current business changes and transformation trends, starring top industry experts, thought leaders, and tech influencers.

The first episode was inspired by a striking truth, i.e. that 90% of start-up investors value the quality of the team above the idea itself. It's why we decided to once again raise a timeless management question: How do you build a high-performing, totally-on-the-same-page team?

While your guesses may be twisting around the likes of "a roomful of brilliant minds," "a balanced strategy," or "rich corporate perks," (and you'll be right) there's much more to that story.

Our hypothesis was that high performance isn't simply about adding the latest tools and technology to a team, but more about building cohesion, self-awareness, trust, and vulnerability. This sparked a deeper conversation on the relevant practices that actually support teams, no matter remote or co-located, in performing at their best.

Glyn Roberts, CTO of Digital Solutions, iTechArt

High performing teams are more than delivering lines of code faster.

They collaborate, innovate, and produce consistently superior results than other teams with the same quality of people.

They achieve this through a clear purpose, shared goals, clear role expectations, holding each other accountable, the power to make decisions, mutual trust with other members, shared leadership, and regular communication (including conflict as Mackenzie references below).

A few of the benefits of high-performing teams are:

  • More flexible and responsive to changing demands
  • Increased job satisfaction (increasing team retention)
  • Driving business results

This is a difficult task to achieve, and there are no shortcuts to ensure success.

Mackenzie Fogelson, Executive Coach, Org Designer

With the onset of a global pandemic and the sudden catapult into a fully distributed environment, teams and their leaders experience even higher degrees of uncertainty.

The only way to navigate such a complex environment is to teach team members the self-awareness essentials that will help them understand themselves and their co-workers better, thus becoming more coherent, engaged, and ultimately more productive.

Here are some proven practices drawn from my own experience.

1. Play the "name" game

The first step to more effective team collaboration is just naming when you're in a triggering mood and not ready to operate at the usual level. Just admitting that you feel a bit low reduces stress and that anxiety, helping you receive some empathy from colleagues instead of being judged behind your back.

2. Hold rumble check-ins

In case you're still not conducting regular check-ins, I would immediately remaster the plan. Check-in round is a two-minute session prior to the main part of the meeting where you go around the room and let every person answer the simple question: "What occupies your mind?" This gives everyone an opportunity to be heard before you even get started, facilitating further work.

3. Encourage trust and risk being vulnerable

Trust isn't something won overnight, but a consistent practice that each individual on your team must follow. Here are a few things that might help.

First, I suggest using a team charter that would keep all members of your team fully engaged. Have a look at a charter example:

Encourage trust and risk being vulnerable

Design your charter and make it accessible for everyone, perhaps in a Trello board. This exercise brings teams together and helps them bond around common goals and principles while empowering newcomers to understand what defines the team and what's important.

Don't forget to revisit the board and update it if circumstances change.

Also, I'd like to mention backchanneling. Let's face the music: everybody does that. These are all the side conversations that disagree with the larger conversation. Make sure that this brings value back to the team and that everybody is aware of these "secret" talks.

4. Work out your team's operating rhythm

Work and evolve at your own pace. It's up to you to choose. Have live stand-ups every day, every two days, or maybe conduct 60-minute coordination meetings on Mondays and retrospective ones on Fridays. The most critical point is to ensure that such gatherings are purposeful enough and that you don't waste your priceless time.

5. Improve cohesion

Among the most important concepts here are superpowers and a peer feedback system.

Superpowers are a great tool for offsite teams that will help all members learn more about individual superpowers. If you don't know where you're strongest, you may fail to align your work with your best skills and may not even develop essential skills for the future. This team-building activity is brought to us by SYPartners, and you can use its deck to start practicing right away.

The above-mentioned practices have created a solid ground for a peer feedback system. Feedback teams are usually made up of three people. Once they gave and received feedback from the rest of the group, swap people out to form new groups. To ensure team members are constantly rotating, following the easy process:

Encourage trust and risk being vulnerable

I understand it might seem rather time-consuming, but at the end of the day, this is just an "early stage" investment to the highest possible employee performance both in professional and personal endeavors.

Finally, remember that you need to normalize the uncertainty. This is a new way of how the work is done, and it's time to do something about it.

Your team is never done; it's always developing. All individuals must work together to co-create the conditions they want; only this way is it possible to build a high-performing team.

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