No. 3, April 17th, 2012

How to enhance team performance; part 1, analyzing your team.


The next couple of issues of “the Happy Professional” are all about enhancing the performance of your team. I will provide useful information and practical tools for team managers and professionals seeking an effective and simple way to enhance their own performance and that of their team.

Team performance depends on factors on the level of the individual employee as well as the level of the organization.

Enhancing team performance is more than just trying to improve the performance of the individual team members. The organization and higher management should provide an environment in which people are motivated to meet and exceed performance expectations; a suboptimal organization will lead to suboptimal performance. For example, when a manager lacks effective leadership skills, then teamwork, motivation and productivity always suffer. Efforts to improve the performance of the team by coaching or training the employees will not be effective, as the manager is the “weakest link” in the team performance.

Below, I describe a Performance Model, allowing to diagnose your team and discover its “weakest links”.  The model is my practical version of the many detailed models described in management books. In a simple and effective way the model provides a unique insight into the main causes of suboptimal team performance. Following the diagnosis, professional efforts to enhance team performance can focus on the most important weakest links only.

The Team Performance Diagnosis Model

A Chain Is No Stronger than Its Weakest Link

Think of your team and its performance in terms of a chain. Strengthening any link other than the weakest is a waste of time and effort. Identifying and strengthening the weakest link, the team’s performance constraint, is the only way to strengthen the chain itself. In the Team Performance Diagnosis Model, four major links are defined: Direction, Structure & Culture, People and Tools.

Below, you will find a short description of the major four performance links.

A captain not knowing where to go always complains the wind is blowing from the wrong direction.
An organization and a team need an inspiring common vision of its future direction. This requires a clear mission statement (what is the purpose of the team/organization, why does it exist?), followed by a vision statement (defining how things should be done and how to deal with colleagues and customers). Is the mission/vision actually defined by the organization? Are employees inspired and guided by the mission/vision in their daily work? Are managers actively pointing out the link between mission/vision and objectives (in other words do managers demonstrate good leadership skills)? Is a clear strategy in place, describing how to reach the team’s and organization’s SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time frame)?  When applicable, this also includes a marketing good strategy.

Structure & Culture
is the organization structure optimized? An organization structure is optimized by fitting it to the specific needs of the organization at its current stage of development. For example, a startup company often has a few levels of management and the founder “calls the shots”, allowing quick decisions and actions to be taken. However, as the company grows, this simple organization structure may not be suitable to carry out complex activities; moreover discipline may be bad because there are too many subordinates under one manager.

Are Work Processes aligned with the wants and needs of clients, are they up-to-date and optimized in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and flexibility.

Are Values & Standards described and do they guide employees in the way they do business and think and act? Are managers setting an example of professional behavior for the employees (“practice what you preach”)?

Is the organizational culture such that people feel rewarded, recognized and appreciated.  Can the employees speak their mind freely within the organization? Does the organization provide an environment in which people and managers are comfortable and able to receive and provide feedback to each other? Feedback, whether negative or positive, is known to be a powerful motivator and an essential factor in the process of learning!

Do managers and employees have sufficient knowledge and skills to meet the expected performance level? Is it clear what knowledge and skills are needed to effectively perform a role in the organization? Are tasks and responsibilities well described in the job description and are they aligned with the expected performance level? Are job candidates sufficiently screened for core qualities, skills and knowledge, to be successful in the new job?

Are managers and professionals at key positions self-aware? Is developing self-awareness and self-knowledge stimulated by offering coaching or training? The self-aware manager is able to think from the other’s perspective which helps in people relationships, communications, and decision making (see Happy Professional issue 1 en and issue 2 for further explanation why self-awareness makes better managers).

Are employees motivated and committed to their job? Does the employee clearly know what is expected from him or her every day at work? Is job performance monitored and evaluated on a regular basis? Is good performance and behaviour rewarded and are there consequences for poor performance or behaviour? Does the manager inspire and motivate his team (demonstrate sufficient leadership skills)?  Do employees receive a fair compensation as compared to similar jobs elsewhere?

Do people enjoy their work? Are things scheduled to have fun with the group and interact outside of work?

Tools, time and training
Do employees have the tools, time, information, budget and training necessary to do their job well?

Is the ICT infrastructure fit for purpose?

Is the work environment safe and healthy?  Is the work environment stimulating (for example color of office walls, available daylight, plants etc.)?

How to make the diagnosis

Above information can be used as a checklist to scan all links of the performance chain. As a manager you can do this analysis on your own, or involve an experienced consultant. Whatever approach you chose, getting all the team members involved is always a very powerful way of getting an accurate diagnosis. The team exercise can be downloaded here.  It contains various positive statements (in line with the model described above) that can be scored from absolutely true to absolutely untrue on a scale from 0-5.  The sum of all scores will reveal the top 5 untrue statements (thus weakest performance links) that can be the focus of a performance enhancement project. Download the group exercise now.

Next time: How to enhance team performance, part 2.

Talk to you next time,