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Meiss Education Institute

The Five Key Elements of Creating High Performing Teams
By Rich Meiss

Creating High Performing Teams Series: I

When President John Kennedy put forth the idea of sending a man to the moon and bringing him safely back again in 1960, no one could have predicted how difficult that task would be.  It is estimated that at the time, American scientists and astronauts had only about 15% of the knowledge it would take to accomplish this task.  Yet how the president created a vision and captured the hearts and minds of the American people to set about the accomplishment of this task is one of the great team building successes in modern history.  This article will explore the key elements that lead to the success of that endeavor, and define the factors that create any high performing team.

We should begin by defining what we mean by a team.  A team is “a small group of people (usually 3-15), with complementary skills, who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals and working approach to which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”  A high performing team includes all of these stated attributes and adds the element of its members being “highly committed to the personal growth and success of each other”.

High performing teams (HPT’s) share five key elements.  They have strong team REASONS, they have high levels of trusting team RELATIONSHIPS, they are committed to team RESPONSIBILITIES, they understand their team ROLES AND GOALS, and they achieve high levels of team RESULTS.  This 5R model (Reasons, Relationships, Responsibilities, Roles and Goals, and Results) is the secret to creating high performing teams.  Let’s explore each of the R’s in more detail.  (Take the Teams Survey at the end of this article to gauge your team’s 5 R strengths and weaknesses.)

Team members on HPT’s have a compelling REASON to be involved on the team. This team reason includes the purpose, values and vision of the team – those elements that constitute a clear and compelling performance challenge.  Although most of us will never have such a stirring performance challenge as did the space program people at Cape Canaveral in the 1960’s, we do need to see and understand the reason for our team’s existence before committing our time and energy.  

The team purpose describes WHY the team exists.  In the case of an organizational team, it describes the purpose of the organization beyond making a profit.  It helps to compel team members to get out of bed in the morning have an excitement about their work.  Several well-known team purposes include these:
Ritz-Carlton Hotels:  “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
Disney Corporation:  “To use our imagination to bring happiness to millions.”
Johnson and Johnson: “We exist to alleviate pain and disease.”

The next component of team REASONS is the team’s agreed upon values.  Values comprise the HOW of a team’s operating agreement.  They are the standards and principles by which the team will make decisions and operate together.  

Establishing the team’s values is one of the most important things a team can do in the early stages of its formation. 

The final element of Reasons is the team vision - an expression of WHAT success will look like 2-5 years in the future.  A team vision is never really accomplished, as it is aspirational.  It should pull the team members forward in an unending quest to achieve the vision.   (For more information on how to develop team purpose, values and vision, see the article in this series titled “Team Reasons:  Determining the What, Why and How of the Team’s Existence.)  

Once team reasons have been defined, the next challenge is to build cohesive team RELATIONSHIPS.  This process begins with an understanding of the different behavioral styles that individuals bring to a team.  A number of popular personality assessments are available to help discover these behavioral styles.  The model we employ to accomplish this is the DISC behavioral styles personality model.

Each of the DISC styles (Director, Interactor, Supporter, and Calculator) brings its own strengths and limitations to the team.  By understanding how each style communicates, makes decisions, solves problems, and resolves conflict, and learning to respect and value these differences, team members begin to build trusting relationships.  And trust is the glue that holds teams together.  (For more information on the DISC model and determining your own style, see the article in this series titled “Team Relationships:  Understanding Style and Building Trust.”)

A major difficulty in building high performing teams is being willing to cultivate strong idealogical conflict.  Excellent teams recognize that “when two people on a team always agree, one of them is unnecessary”.  HPT’s look for ways to promote healthy conflict.  Healthy conflict leads to optimum results.  This part of the process has team members taking RESPONSIBILITY for bringing out the best in each other.   In addition to promoting healthy conflict, team members learn how to confront each other when there is poor performance.  (For more information on promoting healthy conflict and confronting poor performance, see the series article titled “Team Responsibilities:  Managing Conflict and Poor Performance”.) 

Once a team has developed strong team reasons, relationships and responsibilities, the next major task is defining team ROLES and GOALS.  Team members determine how to maximize their contributions by focusing on the roles in which they can best serve.  They find ways to minimize their limitations while maximizing their strengths.  Specific team goals are also set.  These are short to medium term goals – six to eighteen months out – that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  These smart goals keep team members focused and committed.  (For more on setting smart goals, see the series article titled “Team Roles and Goals:  Discovering Passion and Place”.)

Finally, high performing teams concentrate on accomplishing excellent RESULTS.  They determine which of the seven ways of decision-making they will adopt, they create standards for team interaction, and they agree to effective team meetings.  

These meetings often include a weekly tactical, a monthly strategic, and a quarterly off-site planning meeting.  Teams in fast-moving organizations also find it helpful to have short, daily “huddle” meetings to keep each other abreast of current developments. 

Each of these four types of meetings has its own purpose and process.  While it may seem excessive to meet this often, teams have found that these highly effective meetings lead to greater results – as contrasted with fewer, ineffective meetings.  (For more information on the 7 decision making methods and the 4 types of effective meetings, see the series article titled “Team Results:  Decision Making and Effective Meetings”.)

All five of these elements (Reasons, Relationships, Responsibilities, Roles/Goals, and Results) were present in the space program in the 60’s.  But when President Kennedy laid out the goal, Congress members understandably were unsure about it.  After all, this initiative was going to cost billions of dollars.  So a congressional team was sent to Florida to determine whether to appropriate the funds for this massive project.  During a tour of the grounds, Florida Senator George Smathers asked a cleaning woman who was sweeping in one of the huge hangars, “What do you do here?”  Without hesitation the woman replied, “I’m part of a team helping to get a man to the moon and back home safely.”  Senator Smathers said later:  “I knew at that moment that I was going to vote ‘yes’ for the funding, because everyone was engaged in a common vision.” 

Are you creating a compelling vision for your team?  Are you generating the kind of energy to achieve your purpose that even your cleaning people are excited about?  That is the challenge of every team leader!  And successful team leaders employ the 5 R’s of team success to make those purposes happen.  Imagine the thrill of everyone involved on the Apollo 11 team, when on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and announced:  “That’s one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind!”

That is the power of a committed team!!

Visit our web site at www.MeissEducation.com for information about the Creating High Performing Teams seminar.


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