In this mtpcon London talk, Richard Banfield looks at what makes high-performing teams work.
Building High-performing Organisations
Continuous improvement can act as a powerful cultural change agent: cycling coach David Brailsford knows this and he was able to reinvent British Cycling as a result. Since the implementation of Brailsford’s changes, British Cycling has experienced success beyond what could have been imagined – winning multiple gold medals at consecutive Olympic Games, after not winning anything for over 80 years.
What Makes High-performing Teams Work?
Richard and his co-authors Nate Walkingshaw and Martin Eriksson spoke to dozens of organisations to come up with conclusions about how companies outperform the rest of their market. They found that high-performing business don’t focus on short-term metrics like NPS, rather they look at a long-term, brand or customer relationship to provide value.
They are playing for the sake of playing. They love being excellent. They’re not just doing it to get a short-term results – they’re doing it because they can’t do anything else.
How to Create High-performing Environments
Children react to the dynamics of teams by feeling that experimentation can happen. Adults worry about what everybody else is thinking or power dynamics, whereas children don’t perceive any of this. If we want to create teams that outperform those around them, we need to make people feel that there is safety to experiment and play.
While we attempt to make our structures and organisations less hierarchical, we haven’t worked out how to effectively scale these teams and their psychological safety.
Choose as Diverse a Group as Possible
A team made up of lots of different experiences, knowledge, and skills shows everyone that it’s alright to be different. It shows that those who stand out are embraced and that their opinions are respected. Sharing may be more complicated because not everyone has the same frames of reference, but overall the benefits far outweigh any communication challenges.
We Need to Speak the Same Language
Communication barriers arise when there is no shared vocabulary within groups. This is not just about language, but also the way that people share experiences. It allows teams create their own values which set alongside the company values. Richard says that being open and vulnerable is the most important of these values in high performing groups, because it creates a loop for others in the group to share with you.
Organise Teams Around People
We all react better when we focus on improving the situation or outcomes of another person. We can’t have empathy for a metric. To create value we need to make sure that our teams are built around a particular group of people and the problems they face.
Teams of Teams
Psychological safety is a deliberate intentional strategy. To solve particularly tricky problems, you can create groups that sit across organisations. The US Army reaped the benefits of this approach by sharing intelligence from the CIA, Navy, and Army during the Iraq War. Many organisations take this approach to address any gender issues, with women’s networks the most popular execution of this. Such groups can bring fantastic benefits to those already in the company by creating a safe space for otherwise difficult discussions. It is also a hugely powerful draw for recruitment.
Signal Acceptable Behaviours to Create a High-performing Culture
By making small changes to the working environment you can signal what you hold dear to a team. For Team Sky this means ensuring all the workshops are painted in white, so that dirt can be easily seen, and thus signalling that small details matter to the outcome of everything they do. These types of approaches provide guidelines for everybody and provide a subtle way of showing team members what’s important to the success of the organisation.
Show People Where You’re Going to Keep Them Feeling Safe
To truly organise people’s efforts you should align them with an outcome they’re all trying to achieve. This is often called a vision or mission, and it needs to be a strong guiding principle that everyone can buy into. This allows you to organise people while still allowing for and empowering their individual adaptability.