5 Steps to Optimizing Team Performance
Every company wants to tap the full potential of each employee. Often the best way to do this is not to focus on them as individuals, but as members of teams that tackle critical projects as effectively as possible. It's not enough, however, to simply assign them to teams: You also have to supply proper guidance. Otherwise the result may be chaos, and it won't be the team members' fault. Here are 5 secrets for building and maintaining remarkably effective teams.
1. Give teams the authority to make important decisions
Your people aren’t stupid; they know when they have been stuck on a team that has no authority and whose decisions will be overruled by you or some other manager in the organization. When that's the case they will check out and you won't get their best ideas. The most-effective teams are those that are doing important work for their organizations, and that have been granted the authority to make important decisions. When your teams are fully engaged you will have the opportunity and ability to step back from making every single decision for your business. By handing the reins to your team you can spend time on more important things. This doesn't mean, however, that you let go entirely. Keep in touch with your teams and make sure they are accountable for their progress and results.
2. Challenge employees to ask “What if?”
Encourage every employee to ask questions during team meetings, especially the "What-ifs?", and then seriously consider them. Discussing a variety of possible outcomes, however remote they may seem, gives your team the advantage of being prepared in advance for most any situation they may encounter. Include employees from all levels in these meetings. Seeing things from the point of view of less-experienced employees can sometimes help the team come up with an idea that would otherwise be overlooked.
3. Work to resolve differences
In order to remain a united team working toward a common goal it is critical to address each employee's concerns and work through them as they arise. While not every employee will agree on the decisions that have been made it is vital that such disagreement doesn't turn into long-term negative feelings that hamper team performance. Explain to your people that they won't always agree on a problem, and teach them how to accept the team's decision and move on. Each team member must take responsibility for the outcome even if it wasn’t his or her preferred approach.
4. Make sure your managers are following your new team-empowerment playbook
As an entrepreneur, you're probably used to making most of the important decisions yourself. Chances are you also make a lot of the less-important decisions, and so do the managers who work for you. Not only does this waste management's precious time, but you're likely missing out on the benefit of your employees' brilliant ideas and ability to make smart decisions. Take a step back and look to your people for solutions, and require your managers to do the same. Push your managers to give responsibility to their employees to work out problems and come up with ideas. Teach them to trust that employees know what they are doing; if they don't, they hired the wrong people. There may be a learning curve when handing over control, but instead of taking power away for a mistake have managers available to help and answer questions without judgment.
5. Practice building consensus
If your organization is not used to working toward consensus, practice. Try different exercises where team members each take a crack at an important problem, develop a recommended course or set of solutions, and then share their thoughts with each other. From there, coach them to arrive at a consensus that everyone can accept. Employees will learn the importance of making compromises that are good for the company. Once your teams have some experience under their belt, reaching consensus should come about faster and more smoothly.
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While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest Inc.com columns, and visit him anytime at petereconomy.com.