If we’re honest, most of us judge winning teams by the output they produce. It’s our default team performance result.
But don’t be fooled. This singular focus, while it may seem successful in the short-term, often leads to burnout, burned bridges, and an unstable foundation. There are, in fact, three kinds of team results that matter for long-term team performance.
Experience is the great teacher and I learned this lesson the hard way. Our team had worked extremely hard for 18 months, managed our resources carefully and delivered what we promised on time and under budget. A trifecta in the project world and real “high-five” moment according to team measure #1 – output.
But something didn’t feel right. Once the high of a successful go-live wore off, morale was low, relationships were frayed, and the team’s capacity to take on new challenges was severely diminished. I couldn’t diagnose it at the time, but our team was suffering from what Harvard team researcher J. R. Hackman discovered. What I was missing, and Hackman revealed, was that real high performance teams actually deliver three kinds of results:
- They deliver output
- They grow strong, healthy team members
- They build team capacity for future performance
One way to look at the 3 Key Results of High Performance Teams are that they “do good” in 3 ways.
- Do good for the organization – by delivering output
- Do good for the team – by improving the well-being of everyone involved
- Do good for the future – by leaving the team more capable and ready to take on even greater challenges
As leaders we must continuously focus our teams on all three. To do that, ask yourself three questions:
1. Does My Team’s output meet the standards of those who use it?
Team output is the measure we all know and can see. It’s either done or it’s not. Our mission statements and project charters define it, our customers and stakeholders expect it, and most of our energy is focused on it. When the team achieves the results we set out for we judge the team successful. Obviously, if the team does not achieve results it is difficult to call it a success. But, we also need to ask ourselves, “At what cost does the team achieve these results?”
In my case, a unidirectional focus on team output eroded the foundation of long-term sustainable performance. By prioritizing task delivery over collaboration, I created a divide-and-conquer teamwork model. This is not real teamwork that benefits from team collective intelligence but, instead, assembles complementary resources (a.k.a. people) toward a common task-set that is beyond the capabilities of a single person.
This distinction is a key factor I missed years ago. Adopting the view that what we were doing was a short-term sprint put our focus only on team output which missed the opportunity to create long-term value through the team experience. Which leads us to question #2…
2. Does My Team’s experience contribute to their well-being and development?
Team member well-being? In the middle of a “set your hair on fire” war against the deadline – are you kidding?
Taking care of team members should be priority one for all people managers. Unfortunately, when the pressure is on, human quality of life often takes a back seat. And this is a mistake.
I often talk with leaders about how they “set up” their work, teams, and lives for success. The set up for a team and the overall well-being of the people involved requires top leadership commitment to row against the tide of “redouble our efforts” or, as a project leader friend of mine used to say, “just whip the hamsters harder”. This under-plan, over-manage mindset is one of the most troubling trends in team leadership today and flows directly from our bias for output-based results. Which points us to question #3…
3. Does My Team’s experience enhance the capability of members to work and learn together in the future?
Residue and resistance are significant invisible barriers to change and overall organizational performance. I have lost count of the number of people who recount their terrible team experiences as they politely decline invitations to join another great team adventure. If people aren’t knocking on your door to sign up for the team you are assembling, you likely have a teamwork hangover culture.
Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline, brought team learning to the forefront as a key to team performance. When viewing our team and collaborative efforts through this lens it is easy to see where we aren’t just investing in one-time team output but building the relationships, trust, and cultural foundation necessary for even higher performance teams in the future.
Unfortunately, the siren song of task performance combined with rigid scheduling has, in many cases, erased people investments from our team leadership playbook.
Where is your team performance focus?