What would you say is the key differentiator between a high performing team and a low performing team? Is it their ability to be productive as a whole? Is it the outcomes of their ability to collaborate? Possibly you initially think of the sense of camaraderie and morale amongst the team itself.
Truth be told, there isn’t a single differentiator between a team that performs at high levels and one that does not. Every leader’s expectations of their team differs depending on the working environment, personal values, professional objectives, and past experiences. When I worked in Operations in the nuclear industry, the key focus for any team was procedural compliance. A team’s ability to follow procedures (which were meant to reduce errors and mistakes – a good thing when you work in a nuclear plant) was the key differentiator to a high performing team. Counter this against a team’s ability to collaborate to make a sale, the key factor in a high-performing team when I was selling cars earlier in my career, and you can start to recognize that it is very difficult to ascertain a single factor that will measure and determine a team’s ability to succeed… and we haven’t yet discussed the differences between the people who are on the team.
The challenge as a leader, in order to have your team work at the highest possible levels, is not to build a team that conforms to your needs, be they personal or professional, but to build a team that collectively satisfies the needs of your customers, either internal or external. Consider, for example, that there were numerous procedures in the nuclear industry that were meant to satisfy the regulator, not the maintenance department who was one of our internal customers. Where procedures conflicted with what maintenance was needed, they pushed back and complained, causing stress and anxiety for team members who felt helpless.
What do you think happened to the performance and productivity of team members who felt helpless? It dropped of course. And as individual team member performance diminished, what do you think happened to the performance level of the team as a whole?
You guessed it… That dropped as well.
The solution? Connect your team members with your customers both internal and external, helping them to not only recognize but also to understand what your customers need. This connection not only reduces the strain on leaders, who often become frustrated at trying to help employees understand why specific tasks and procedures are so important, but also it helps to satisfy members of the team who have a desire to know “why.”
This rule applies regardless of your team. For example:
Members of a sales team should connect with each other’s customers (external) as well as customer service (internal) to best understand needs.
Members of an operational team should connect with external customers as well as internal customers such as sales and shipping.
Members of an accounting team should connect with external customers as well as those in operations, manufacturing, or sales, all internal customers that they directly or indirectly serve.
I call this the employee-customer connection, and it’s a powerful way to improve the performance of a team because it addresses one simple but crucial question – why.
How might you do this? That is entirely up to you, but I would suggest you start by having some cross-functional training, including customer visits. Hold more collaborative meetings that include members of other departments; or better yet, break-down walls or cubicles and start to seat team members physically in a location of their customer. This means that accounting might have one or two employees who sit in the sales department.
I know what you are thinking – that this takes away from the ability of a team to gel and specialize. The reality is that a team that specializes only serves their own purpose, whereas a team that performs serves the purpose of their customers.
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© Shawn Casemore 2017. All rights reserved.