How do you develop a team that is committed to high performance? From the live-laboratory of Wharton School of Business’ Executive Development Programme with executives from across the world, Moussa, Boyer and Newberry, a group of organisational specialists on group dynamics and authors of Committed Teams (2016) have proposed a 3 x 3 Framework for the development of high-performance teams (HPTs). The first 3 stands for the Three Foundations of HPTs: clear goals, roles and norms and the second 3 is a three-step process for resolving differences and deepening commitment with Commit, Check, and Close.
Teams underperform when there is a disconnect between psychological awareness and the reality of a group’s social environment. They call this the “illusion of insight – the insight into the motivations that produce our actions. What we think we know about others and ourselves is more often than not, surprisingly misguided. But we jump to conclusions anyway.”
According to Moussa et al.,, the bottom line is that “we often think we understand ourselves and our team even as we miscommunicate and misinterpret intentions, overestimate our ability to perform a task, and fail to recognise our own assumptions about the way work should be done.” Every team needs clear and explicit rules so that everyone understands what they are and remain committed to them. These team rules shape the culture of the group which is expressed through language, symbols and behaviours. The first step to creating an HPT therefore is to establish its culture or the way teams work together.
Culture however can cause problems as we often misinterpret the team’s rules for collaborating and are blind to ingrained behaviours that undermine performance. This is because a culture forms in ways that can be largely invisible to team members and sometimes individuals may act in ways that conflict with the team’s explicit rules in ways they are not aware of. Becoming aware of culture and managing it effectively is the key to team’s success as a HPT.
Research on group dynamics show that teams perform best when they agree on rules related to goals, roles, and norms.
1.Goals: Rules Guiding the team’s direction – Creating and leading a team gives us an opportunity to consciously and deliberately cultivate a few key rules for getting work done. A shared vision and specific goals that establish clear performance targets and tap into the values that are meaningful to individual members helps guide the team’s direction. In the making of commitments or the rules, we need to tap on the power of structured conversation about concrete commitments to organise collaboration. The outcome of this conversation is the team’s charter or agreement which you can refer to and hold each other accountable for. It is important not to have too many rules but to establish commitments around rules that really matter and that the goals set are clear and inspiring.
2.Roles: Rules defining each member’s contributions – Research on team performance and workplace productivity consistently finds that teams work better when members have clear, interdependent roles that tap into their skills, expertise and sense of meaning. This involves establishing clear and differentiated roles and ensuring you have the skill sets and expertise needed as a team to achieve desired outcomes.
Team members can consider how they want to shape their roles based on how they derive meaning from work as this is how people become passionate in their work. It will also enhance the quality of their work. In addition to finding the right fit between individual team members and their roles, you should also consider how all of the roles fit together to form a team structure. There is no one right structure. What is important is to be aware of trade-offs with each structure and to shape the structure that best fit your team and its goals.
3.Norms: Rules determining how members interact – This includes mechanisms for making decisions, sharing information and resolving conflicts so that there is clear expectations for team behaviours. Important rules governing engagement are about: How do we communicate or share information? How do we resolve conflicts? How do we make decisions?
The Norms must be continually revisited because the nature of team culture is to be in a constant flux. There is therefore a need to revisit the Rules regularly with Check and Close or a checking on alignment with the original commitments and closing the gap between stated commitments and actual behaviours. Reflection is the core activity in Checking on alignment with commitments, course-correcting as necessary in response to changing circumstances and even with a changing external environment. Sometimes teams can become misaligned without recognising it.
The illusion of insight sometimes blinds your team to underlying conflicts. An outside observer can help you see these conflicts or you have to cultivate the ability to be your own observer. Checking in on observed gaps is more than just awareness of the gaps as research by Edmondson & Detert (2007) have shown that people are hard-wired to evade perceived threats to their psychological or material well-being. Inspiring others to do their best is already challenging, encouraging them to share their true thoughts and feelings about it might even be harder.
To successfully do Check and Close, you have to build trust and rapport to create a psychologically safe space for your team to have tough conversations and hold each other accountable to become a HPT by correcting the gap between what the team says and what the team does or the saying-doing gap by creating actionable behavioral change. Research shows that teams that have psychological safety communicate more openly, share information more freely and make better decisions. HPTs use inclusive group dialogue for better communication and interpersonal understanding and build individual one-on-one relationships by having frequent one-on-one conversations to create space for reflection. In these conversations, nonjudgmental listening creates psychological safety and opens up the possibility for change within the team.
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