The High-Performing Team

The Four Types of Teams (Part 4 of 4)

Everybody wants to be on a high-performing team! Many workers, even team leaders, would rank their teams as high-performing, but research indicates that only about one in five truly are. Consider the following scenario that illustrates the characteristics of a high-performing team. 

You’ve been asked to join a third committee at your organization. Failed committee placements are becoming a theme in your work life! The new committee is yet again tasked with a business-critical mission that needs to be resolved in the next fiscal quarter. The stakes are high, so it makes sense that you’re still nervous as you head to your meeting.

The new committee leader assures everyone that the team is well suited for the task ahead. The leader spends time acquainting committee members and sets clear parameters for team communications. Your team will foster a climate of mutual cooperation and accountability. Conflicts and differing ideas will arise in any team, and your leader assures you that respectful discourse is welcome if comments are made in the spirit of cooperation and in service of the team’s goals.

As trust is built among team members, ideas are winnowed through collaboration until the team is in pursuit of two or three primary goals. Of course, disagreements may occur, but they are resolved in ways that respect all team members. With the team on the same page, productivity increases. This leads to even better morale, which in turn boosts productivity further.

Although obstacles appear and some team members eventually depart, the best and brightest remain, undaunted by the workload because they are proud of their achievements and feel empowered by the leader. Your team has long-term potential to drive organizational success as contented team members work hard.

The high-performing team described above exists at the nexus of high productivity and high vitality. Unlike country club (high vitality but low productivity) and sweat shop (high productivity but low vitality) teams, the high-performing team is capable of long-term success.

The high-performing team balances a focus on results with a focus on people. Hallmarks of a high-performing team are:

  1. Setting stretch goals 
  2. Empowering team members
  3. Holding team members accountable
  4. Providing rewards and incentives for extraordinary performance

Developing a high-performing team is not an easy task. It takes a delicate blend of people skills and task management. Critically, without first understanding the principal dynamics of high-performing teams, building one is impossible.

To learn more about developing a high-performing team:

THE TAKEAWAY: High-performing teams are found at the crossroads of productivity and vitality. Pairing team morale with task orientation is the key to long-term success.

See the previous entries in this series for insight on the other three types of teams: 

The Team in Hell (Part 1)
The Country Club Team (Part 2)
The Sweat Shop Team (Part 3)

The Sweat Shop Team

The Four Types of Teams (Part 3 of 4)

You’ve been asked to join a second committee at your organization. The committee is once again tasked with a business-critical mission that needs to be resolved in the next fiscal quarter. The stakes are high, so it makes sense that you’re just as nervous as you head to your meeting. 

Your new committee leader does little to put you at ease. With barely an introduction, he launches into a discussion of the tasks facing you and how everything will be covered. Although the leader’s style is somewhat brusque, you at least feel as though the committee will achieve its tasks. There is a notable lack of incentives (where are the chocolate eclairs?!), but you will try to soldier on. 

As your work with the committee progresses, you find that little or no effort has been made to build connections between committee members. You realize that, after weeks, you still don’t know the names of several people from other departments. 

The work keeps piling up and while management seems pleased with the results, your fellow teammates are miserable. Slowly, some members start to leave the committee. The best and brightest are being poached by less painful initiatives. Morale sinks, enough people quit the committee, and work eventually slows to a halt. The once-productive committee could only function for so long with low morale.

On the spectrum of vitality and productivity as presented by business psychologist Robert Kaiser, the above team has high productivity but low vitality. 

This type of team, referred to as a sweat shop team, gets results at first, but ultimately fails as low morale leeches energy and people. This will always be the long-term result of productivity trumping people. 

Management of sweat shop teams is typically task-focused, demanding, and punitive. (The saying—“the beatings will continue until morale improves”—comes to mind.) Sweat shop teams may start off highly productive, but this environment leads to a team that continues to be low on vitality and then drops into commensurately low productivity. 

THE TAKEAWAY: Productivity at the expense of vitality makes for an unsuccessful team. 

Stay tuned for Part 4 of 4: The High-Performing Team

The Country Club Team

The Four Types of Teams (Part 2 of 4)

You’ve been asked to join a new committee at your organization. The committee is tasked with a business-critical mission that needs to be resolved in the next fiscal quarter. The stakes are high, so it makes sense that you’re nervous as you head to your first meeting. 

Your fears are quickly put to rest. The head of the committee is a charismatic leader who assures you and the team that you’re well suited for the task at hand. What’s more, the conference room is filled with an elaborate spread for your first meeting. You’re used to coffee and donuts, but mini eclairs? Chocolate fondue? Things are looking up!

The initial meeting is spent getting to know committee members from other departments. You brainstorm, and the group chemistry and speed of ideas is electrifying. It’s a good start, but you assure yourself that the committee will grow tedious. They always do. 

But you’re soon proven wrong. As the weeks pass, your meetings stay fresh and exciting. You’re bonding with the committee members like you’ve never bonded with colleagues before. You even find yourself wanting to socialize after work. You almost hate to say it, but work is feeling…fun. 

The committee chair takes time at the start of every meeting to check in on how each committee member is doing and often sends follow-up emails congratulating the team on its bold work. You find yourself sharing personal tidbits about your life, your family, your hopes, your dreams. All of your ideas are immediately validated and captured. However, new ideas quickly replace the old ones, so there’s no time to pursue a single thread.

The committee is having such a good time that no one quite realizes two months have slipped by without any tangible progress. Before you know it, the committee has been dissolved due to lack of results. The good times are over.

The above scenario is a classic example of what can be termed a country club team: a team with high vitality but low productivity. Country club teams are typified by a leader who prioritizes unity and morale over results. This often stems from the need to be liked. Being placed on a country club team can feel like hitting the jackpot, especially at first. But, over the long haul, country club teams are unsuccessful. 

When a team is unable to get results, its best and brightest members will naturally gravitate toward other functions. And although a country club team can be fun in the short term, it often leaves team members feeling empty when they realize that they have failed to accomplish their goals. Membership on a country club team is like eating cake for dinner: delicious at first but ultimately unsatisfying. 

THE TAKEAWAY: Vitality at the expense of productivity makes for an unsuccessful team. 

Stay tuned for Part 3 of 4: The Sweat Shop Team

The Team in Hell
(The Unproductive and Unhappy Team)

Introduction: Over the course of the next four blogs, the focus is on the different kinds of teams that you will encounter in the workplace. As you read through these scenarios, ask yourself what kind of team you are on and what you can do to make it better.

The Four Types of Teams (Part 1 of 4)

You’ve taken a job at a company’s incoming call center. Customers periodically have problems with their orders and you’re there to help solve them. You get your own cubicle and can stylize it with photos from home and other personal memorabilia. You’re told that you will be part of an eight-person team responsible for addressing customer concerns. So far, so good. Then, your supervisor says to wait for incoming calls and respond from a script with which you’ve been provided. You’re not to vary from that script. If a customer wants more information, you’re to refer the customer to your supervisor, who also mentions that there will be times when she is on the line to listen but you will not know she is there. The reason is to provide feedback for “training purposes.” 

This was the only job that you could get in a very tight job market and you’re thankful to have it. You had promised yourself to further your education in order to get a better  job, but life got in the way. Once you get back on your feet, you’re determined to get the training you need for a more professional job. Your supervisor was nice enough and showed you to your cubicle. She said that she would be available if you have any questions. You’ve been told that you will have a chance to meet the other team members once you “get settled.” You’re glad that in this position, you will be able to help people with their problems.

However, it has not taken long to realize why this particular job was available. You rarely see your supervisor and when you do, she always seems to be preoccupied. Members on your team change daily and it is hard to keep up with who is actually on your team. The call volume hasn’t been very high and you’ve enjoyed the conversations with customers. However, the feedback from your supervisor has indicated that you’re being too chatty with customers, too friendly, and taking too long on the call. In addition, you must inform your supervisor when you leave your cubicle for any reason and you’re expected to bring your lunch and eat in your cubicle. 

In addition to the high turnover of team members, you are warned not to talk with one another because “a customer might call” and you may miss it. Your initial gratefulness for the job soon turns to doubt and disappointment. At this time, however, you don’t have many other options, so you commit to staying…“sucking it up” and having a good attitude for the customers.

According to the research of 21,000 teams by business psychologist Robert Kaiser, every team ranks somewhere on the spectrum of vitality (team morale) and productivity. (See matrix above.) Surprisingly, based on this research, 23% of the 21,000 teams surveyed were similar to the profiled team, in which productivity was low and employees were unhappy. It’s a real head-scratcher why anyone would want to be on such a team!

Furthermore and per Glassdoor, as cited in “24/7 Wall St.,” employees at companies that have been rated the worst places to work have several things in common: they are typically paid poorly, overworked, have a poor work-life balance, experience a negative company culture, experience poor working conditions, have few opportunities to get ahead, and have low levels of respect for management. 

Among the reasons cited in the Glassdoor study are a tight job market with limited choices; employees lack education or opportunities to move to another job; they are living on the margins and needing a paycheck just to survive; and their overall life circumstances (for example, an uneducated single parent with few options). Finally, for some people, it is simply inertia that is the reason for staying. Despite things being bad, they have become acclimated to the low pay and poor working conditions and will stay until being forced to leave. Companies with these working conditions typically have high turnover and “burn through” employees quickly. 

The work environment described is characterized by low productivity and low vitality. Teams in such companies are characterized by low cohesion, poor morale, low (or poor quality) productivity, and little management support. Management behaviors include providing poorly defined goals, little accountability, a laissez-faire style, and poor (if any) communication.

THE TAKEAWAY: Low productivity and low vitality make for an unsuccessful team. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 4: The Country Club Team

The Happy Unproductive Team

A midsize hospital had been experiencing a three-fold increase in central line–associated bloodstream infections (CLBSIs). To help investigate emerging patterns, the CMO asked a physician-leader to chair the quality committee and review the relevant case files.

The committee’s goal was to identify and eradicate factors contributing to the ongoing CLBSI crisis. Time was of the essence because of the impact on patients and the vulnerable accreditation of the hospital.

Shortly after the committee formed, the CMO requested an initial report and was promised that a comprehensive summary would be delivered soon. Another two weeks passed, but there was still no report. Getting concerned, the CMO independently interviewed some of the committee members to determine why the report was late. All said that they enjoyed being on the team, they liked the chair, and they believed that the meeting discussions were very engaging.

Based on the findings from the interviews, the CMO could not ascertain why she had not yet received the report. She asked Myron Beard to consult with the team to better understand the team dynamics and learn what was causing the delay. The CLBSI crisis was worsening, so there was an even greater urgency for results.

After attending one meeting, we quickly identified the problem. The chair had a high focus on relationships. There was no established agenda, and the meeting began with a good deal of “catching up.” The chair invited everyone to participate, and it was clear that there was very little direction but much conversation.

The chair was more interested in creating a positive atmosphere than on getting results. To that end, no ideas were turned down, and all leads were considered good. This approach made the meeting seem more like a brainstorming session than a problem-solving venture.

This approach may have been appropriate in the first meeting, but six weeks into the process, considering every stray idea was a roadblock to success. The team was clearly a high-vitality, low-productivity team. It was operating like a country club.

We met with the physician-leader chair to review our observations. The chair acknowledged that wanting people to like her was a lifelong trait. She was reluctant to impose a structure or agenda that might cause conflict. She also recognized that, as a result of this approach, the team had wandered away from its charter and failed to come up with a solution to the urgent CLBSI crisis.

The CMO gave the chair the option of receiving coaching or allowing someone else to take over. The chair decided to step down instead of making the changes necessary to make the team a productive unit.

When a new physician-leader was selected, we consulted with her about how to give structure to team meetings and help the team become productive while not jeopardizing morale.

As a result, the new chair was able to focus the efforts of the group and provided the CMO with a comprehensive report within two weeks of stepping into the role. This was a good lesson for the CMO. Good morale is important, but not as important as getting results. After all, succeeding at an important task creates the best attitude and sense of satisfaction in the long run.

THE TAKEAWAY: While morale is important, overemphasizing your team’s happiness can cause a lack of results in the long term.