Improve team performance… by breaking your team

You are leading a team of professionals, be it in online marketing, software development or in sales / operations and you get to that point where you either want to or have to improve team performance. Maybe your boss is telling you to or you realised it yourself.

If you’re a teamleader, chances are you have an analytical way of problem solving and probably an educational background that drives you towards analysing your team.

Another, less scientific approach could be: Make your team break down!

Why?

„A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.“

That saying is true in many ways: If you have a team of high performers and you bring in a low performer, then the team’s overall performance will tilt negatively. Example: If your buying team is composed of the best negotiators in the field but the guy who actually does the contracts is a corrupt asshole, then your overall buying performance will not be good.

It does not necessarily have to be about a person’s performance though, it could also be that your workflows are not optimal or that your processes are not well-defined. It could be because the compensation is not good enough to motivate for top performance or even that you as the manager have failed the team in leading the way.

How?

Define what you want to achieve. If you don’t know what your goal is, you’ll never get there.

Give your team assignments that can hardly be met, like double the deployment frequency, set a 50% lower max. price for buying, 100% more reach in advertising with 75% of the budget. Figure out some numbers, that even you think are basically impossible to meet and then: Lean back and watch closely.

With that I mean: Detach from the team. Be there for hard questions but do not join the team emotionally, do not struggle with them, don’t be empathic to their being overwhelmed. Focus on finding out, why that is the case: Is there too much private stuff involved in business cases? Are they struggling because they do not have a striving mindset anymore? Are they overwhelmed because you failed to be a good manager?

Example: I watched one of my teams struggle with being overwhelmed at one point. As much as I thought I could solve the problem with bringing in new tools, processes, motivational speeches and such, in the end I had to admit that I failed them as a manger: I had missed the point where the team had to be scaled up and then the workload was just too much.

(We managed to double the team size in a short time after that and got the team back on track.)

What you are looking for:

  • How is everybody dealing with the stress?
  • If the team finds an approach: Why does it succeed / fail?
  • What is the general attitude: Positive (Let’s do this!) or negative (We’ll never get there…)?
  • How is communication? Positive, negative? Does it change or stay the same?
  • Is the team willing to get out of their comfort zone, try new things?
  • Is the team willing to walk an extra mile?

When you decide to take this approach, give yourself some time before actually implementing it to study the team before. It’ll give you hints for comparison later.

What then?

„Twist the knife.“

If you have identified a specific problem within your team, then point it out, loud and clear. Like embarrassingly loud and unequivocally clear > Print it on a piece of paper, get the whole team into one room and put it on the wall. The enemy, the monster under the bed… for everyone to see!

Then you talk it through, you wrestle it down and you find a solution.

As soon as you have the solution, even if it is a very abstract one, you put it over the problem. Now the problem – something negative – has been replaced by a goal – something positive – and your team has something to strive towards. This is where your managing skills are required: Listen to your teams ideas, analyse what they need to achieve their goals and plan ahead how you can support them in doing so. This is where you can go ahead with what your work as a manager is really all about: Enable your team to achieve their goals! Fun!

Caution!

This is a harsh approach, please do not use it lightly! If you put your team on the edge, like you do here, it can easily lead to situations that are hard to handle. It can even lead to a team falling apart.

If you do want to approach it this way, work together with your HR department, closely! If there is even the slightest doubt, do not use this approach!

Don’t ever be an asshole about it, never refuse to help and never drag it to a personal or emotional level: All the goals have to be plain and simple and with a clear link towards business!

This is in no way an approach to develop your team in terms of team spirit, working surroundings or personal problems that your team members may be having: If on of the surounding factors is not in place, take care of that first!

Summary: Improve team performance

In a nutshell:

  1. Define goal of the attempt
  2. Set goals for the team, impossible to reach
  3. Detach and analyse
  4. Twist-the-knife workshop: Define the problem, find solution and set the path
  5. Be a good manager: Enable, motivate and support your team!

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