Do you have a high performing team or a collection of individuals?

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“Come meet my team.”

By: Roland R. Cavanagh, P.E.


I frequently get invited to “meet my team.”  I always seek to observe and answer, “is this the typical bunch of people pulled together by the common need for a paycheck, or is it truly team?”

“Team” is an oft misused term to describe a group of individuals… we have sports teams, political teams, work teams, and mule teams… But what does it take for a group of individuals to form a team? How do you create the environment to enable your teams to operate at a higher level?

Today, we’ll explore what we are calling “Teamness”: the state of being a team, and the environment that drives it.

It’s part of a series of articles about management, leadership, and operations. Today we’re using the harvest and cellar operations in a winery as an example, but the principles apply teams everywhere.

What demonstrates ‘Teamness”?

The obvious – 

  • The group of individuals outperforms the sum of their capabilities, and outperforms even other’s expectations of them
  • Each member is able to articulate the goal, and their role in achieving it
  • A positive atmosphere – “we can do this!”
  • They finish each other’s sentences…

The not-so-obvious – 

  • Each understands the team’s purpose, and feels strong accountability for achieving their goals
  • They make decisions efficiently, effectively and, at times, autonomously
  • They trust each other, and trust the collective
  • There is a high degree of cross-training, and no one is indispensable (a ‘pillar of knowledge’)
  • Disagreement is viewed as a good thing and is oriented toward problem-solving and removing obstacles.
  • The leadership of the team shifts from time to time, as appropriate, to drive results.

From the Dictionary a team is:

  • a number of persons associated together in work or activity: such as a group on one side (as in football or a debate)
  • two or more draft animals harnessed to the same vehicle or implement

From Wikipedia, a High-Performance Team is:

“a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents and skills, aligned with and committed to a common purpose, who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation, produce superior results, and extinguish radical or extreme opinions that could be damaging. The high-performance team is regarded as tight-knit, focused on their goal and have supportive processes that will enable any team member to surmount any barriers in achieving the team’s goals.”

Harvest and Cellar, as an example

Harvest is a great example of when a time when teamness is highly desirable. It’s a period of intense work and long hours that demonstrates many of the characteristics of team performance

  • “Get the grapes fermenting” – a common “SMART”* goal, clearly articulated
    • *SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  • Rapid, confident, and often autonomous, but informed, decision making

Supported by some of the common team environment bits:

  • Daily, or shift “Huddles” – stand-up meetings to gain alignment and manage anomalies
  • Visual data – a scoreboard or sheet that has the plan and captures progress

Environmental elements for High Performing Work Teams

You can’t force it, you have to create the environment!

  • Start with the right clay – “get the right people on the bus, in the right seats”* Jim Collins Good to Great 
  • Common goals, reinforced frequently, supported with individual performance metrics
  • Clarity on how to do the tasks, and how to work together
  • Huddles – short (8 minutes or less!) “stand-up” meetings at the beginning of the shift that are focused on today’s goals and any exceptions, unexpected issues. An agenda example:
    • [A Safety Moment observation – when appropriate]
    • Recap yesterday’s performance metrics – Celebrate success!
    • Reiterate today’s goal
    • Solicit, and quickly decide on handling of any exceptions or unexpected issues that will impact today’s work
    • A charge to rally the group
  • Visual data and controls – “what must we accomplish” “what have we accomplished” “how is our infrastructure” “when was this last updated”
  • Aligned incentives – not cash, not food or toys, rather, from Gary Santorella’s** 10 Divers of Team Employee Behavior – Hierarchy of Needs :

Gary Santorella, a Behavioral Psychologist and author of Lean Culture for the Construction Industry: Building Responsible and Committed Project Teams conducted over 1,500 assessment interviews with individuals in different industries and distilled them to this list of 10 drivers of team employee behavior:

  1. A sense of purpose – they need to know that what they are being asked to do has significance – that they aren’t just cogs in a meaningless, incomprehensible wheel.
  2. A sense of accomplishment – they want to feel that what they are doing makes an actual contribution toward a greater good
  3. A sense of intellectual or personal skill development – that they are learning a new skill or way of thinking that will serve them in the future
  4. A meaningful voice – that their informed opinions will be sought and listened to
  5. Recognition – that they are respected and held in high esteem for making important contributions and sacrifices for the greater good
  6. A sense of equity – that everyone on the team will be held to the same standards
  7. Financial benefit – that what they are doing will lead to financial gain now or in the future
  8. Responsibility – that when earned, they will be trusted to carry out and accomplish a variety of important functions within the organization with minimal supervision and will be recognized and rewarded for doing so.
  9. The belief, that if they are struggling, or have worries and concerns, that they will be given meaningful support to help them succeed.
  10. That the problems they encounter will be viewed as “team” problems rather than individual failings, and that they can expect support and cooperation from their teammates and superiors should they struggle –without fear of belittlement or retribution.

If you would like to see your teams performing at a higher level, take a look at what we’ve done for other organizations. When you’re ready to lead your teams to next level performance, set up a consultation with The Cavanagh Group. We’re ready to help you achieve “Teamness.”