Creating Succesfull Teams - Part 3

This post is a continuation of  Creating Successful Teams - Part 2

Clear Goals and Objectives

In order to reward, recognise, and celebrate, of course, you need to know what success looks like.  Without understanding what constitutes successfully crossing the finish line, teams struggle to move forward.  And, managers will have a very difficult time guiding their teams forward, because they won't really know in which direction forward is.

At the beginning of every initiative, I like the team to set out what our key success criteria will be.  In other words, what are the things we need to have achieved in order for us to be able to say we were successful.  On-time, on-budget, and quality work are pretty much always part of that mix, but there are often other elements to consider that are important, such as employee growth and customer satisfaction, that add to long-term value too.  Whatever the list is, once it's set, the team then understand what has to be done to cross the finish line.

Deal with Performance Challenges

For a team to stay high-performing, everyone on the team needs to be generally high-performing as well.  There are always minor fluctuations in performance because, after all, we're human beings, not machines.  However, chronic under-performance is another matter.  If it's not dealt with effectively, it will start to compromise the whole team.

Every job is the accountability of two people: the employee, who is accountable to produce the desired results of the job, and the manager, who is accountable to ensure the employee is set up for success in producing those results.  Lasting under-performance can happen for a variety of reasons, divided into two broad categories - can they do the work, and are they motivated to do the work?  Take the time to do the detective work here to figure out what is going on, so you can address it effectively.

Can They Do the Work?

  • The team member didn't understand the goals and objectives of the work.  This is the easiest one to fix (see "Clear Goals and Objectives" above).  One conversation ought to do it.
  • There aren't sufficient resources.  This could be not enough time to actually do the work, lack of money, equipment, or access to people.  In this case, no matter how much the team member may want to perform, they simply can't.  Dealing with these causes is imperative to maintaining morale and increasing performance.
  • The team member was never trained in and doesn't have the knowledge and skills to do their work properly.  Provided the team member is still eager, this one is easy to solve, albeit at a cost.  Training and mentoring should be effective here.  There may be some confidence-building that has to happen at the same time.
  • There is a life event that is interfering with the team member's performance.  Kick your human-resource-allocation contingency plan into place and help the person through it.  You'll want to ensure HR is at least ware, if not directly involved depending on the nature of the issue.
  • The person simply doesn't have the innate talent to do the job.  When someone is a complete mismatch for the work, no amount of training, mentoring, resource providing, and coaching will fix that.  When that's the case, it's best to help that person find the kind of work for which they are better suited, which may in fact not be in your organisation.

Are They Motivated to Do the Work?

  • The team member doesn't understand why the work is important.  Never assume just because you know why something is important everyone else will just 'get it'.
  • Good performance isn't being recognised and rewarded.  See "Rewards, Recognition, and Celebration" in Part 2 of this series.
  • There are no negative consequences to poor performance.  If performance isn't acceptable, the team member needs to know.  If they're not told, they will assume everything is fine.  And once they're told, there has to be consequences if the performance doesn't improve.
  • The team member is angry or resentful about something.  When this happens, many people take a passive-aggressive approach, and act out their feelings, putting less energy into the work, and / or being unreasonably opposed to decisions and courses of action.  The root problem causing the anger or resentment must be addressed along with the performance problem.
  • The team member is bored or burnt-out.  While this is not an excuse for poor performance, it is the leader's job to re-energise these team members.  If that's not possible, job restructuring, or a different kind of work altogether may have to be the answer.

Work-life Balance

Human beings who are performing at a high level need down-time.  They need time to re-energize and recuperate.  And time away from solving work problems is critical for creative problem solving.  I cannot count the number of times I've come up with a solution to a problem at work while doing something completely unrelated to work, such as while doing lengths in the pool.  I have left frustrated in the evening, but nonetheless put the problem away for the night, and walked in gleefully the next morning, saying, "I know how to solve this!"

The norm should be a normal working day, and if it means a manager has to encourage people to call it a night, they should.  Where I've been in circumstances that have demanded ongoing expanded work days (such as having to meet tight deadlines of a critical project), I've arranged supper delivery and late-night taxis home for those team members, thanked them profusely for their sacrifice, made sure they knew there was an end to this and when it was, and made sure they were rewarded for their effort.  And, I worked hard to get them back to a proper work-life balance as soon as possible.

Compassion and Respect

This is really part of fostering a positive culture, but I think it's important to address it individually.  People will only give their all if they are in a safe place.  Otherwise, they hold a portion of themselves back to use as a buttress against negativity.  I have been in those work environments, and I have been in work environments where my colleagues showed compassion and respect, and I can tell you  for sure I was a much higher performer in the latter!  I'm going to borrow another couple of Covey-isms here, which I encourage everyone to do with authenticity:

  • Seek first to understand, then be understood.  Every team member – including leaders – should strive to interact with everyone else in this fashion.
  • Always make sure it's win-win, or no deal.  The going-in position should noever be one of "as long as I win, I don't care." but rather everyone should be working toward ensuring that everyone wins from their interactions – team members, management, the company as a whole, customers, and other stakeholders.


If you can manage to do all these things, based on my experience, you'll be well on your way to creating highly successful teams.