Leading a team? Start your year simple

It’s February on Monday. Yup. By this time of year, directors, managers and team leaders are asking me: How can we set up my team to begin the year?

And I answer, Keep it Simple.

Ask your team what they think of the team’s performance, and do it like this:

Give each person in the team these two questions:

 1. Reflecting on the last 12 months, and on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being epic fail, and 10 being epic awesome), what score would you give our team out of 10, today?  And, specifically, why that score (what do we do well, what needs to improve)?

2. And, if in 6 months (or a time period that suits the nature of your work and your ability to change), the team had moved up one notch on the scale (for example, from a 6 to a 7), what would have changed or be different? Again, please be specific.

Give the team members a couple of days to reflect on these two questions, ensuring they don’t discuss their views with each other.  And, on an agreed day and time, get together and let everyone have their say (avoiding a big defensive debate).

As a team, contemplate and discuss the common successes and sucks, and prioritise the most important change recommendations, before creating an action plan to implement them.

Extra for experts?  

Experts will probably complete this exercise off-site, with harbour views, good catering and use of an objective, experienced facilitator.

As well, many senior skeptical personalities who love detail and structure (accountants, lawyers, engineers, bankers, defence personnel, scientists, suits, project managers and academics) often enjoy more guidance, more of a brief.  

So, I add:  I think there’s seven critical things high performing teams are doing well, that low performing teams are not.  So, experts, take the time to consider and rank your team according to each of these, out of 10:

  • Purpose: How well does everyone in our team know what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why? 
  • Truth & trust: How well does this team trust each other, and speak the truth about the most important things? 
  • Culture: How well does this team provide opportunities for its members to grow, learn and master their crafts (i.e. go beyond paying them a market salary)? 
  • Feedback: How well do we get feedback from each other, customers and stakeholders, and actually use that feedback to make our team, product or service better? 
  • Diverse: How well do we recruit different personalities and strengths (including some better than the boss and ourselves)? 
  • Resilience: How well are we fit to perform and lead (physically, emotionally and mentally)? 
  • Competence: Are we brilliant at doing what we’re paid to do?  Do we actually ‘ship the goods’, and how well?

Finally, each team member calculates an average score (by adding their seven figures up and dividing by seven).  Proceed with revealing your scores, and why, and then the one notch improvement discussion, perhaps using the seven factors (and/or your own relevant factors) as improvement topics.  Complete with a team prioritisation and action plan.

Words of warning

These seven factors are not perfect science, and when it comes to teams and humans, I’m not sure you’ll find such stuff.  However, the factors do make for some interesting conversation and, hopefully, some insight and action that leads to change.

You may encounter resistance.  A lawyer I worked with once (sharper than most), refused to answer them, saying to me: ‘Paul, this is too simple and patronising’.  Perhaps it is.  Although, I did retort with Einstein’s quote: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. 

Debate aside: Changing things with humans is not simple, but knowing what needs to change often is.   And I think we do find this simplicity confronting and, eventually, a great thing.  The above process is a form of feedback, and I always advise the leader to prepare both themselves, and the team, for new information (some of which might be acid in the mouth).  Either way, if you’re going to ask for feedback and commitment to action, as the leader, make sure you follow through with what you promise.  

Finally, if you’re a feedback virgin, I could say “don’t try this at work” without thinking about what might happen, and about what you might do about that.  

But, then again, what’s the worst that could happen?

I say: Get on with it.