Effective Teams: Process to High-Performance

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your business’ highly effective, high-performing team, says Rob Elliott, Principal and Consultant at Pondera Advisors.

“Team effectiveness building is a process, not a one day event. It takes a considerable amount of time and support,” he told Chamber members at the February Business Matters. He recommended that companies invest at least quarterly, if not more often, in their people and their team interactions. Elliott also shared some insights on what the move from dysfunctional teams to high-performing ones looked like, and he revealed what good leadership along the way needs to entail.

“We often know more than we need to know to do our jobs. We just are not always acting on what we know,” said Elliott. He added that all too often unhealthy team dynamics get in the way of individual performance as well as team results. Team members need to feel heard and valued while leaders need to cultivate an environment of trust and accountability in which people have freedom to engage in productive, “healthy” conflict.

“We have to be open to others’ views in order to innovate or else we fall behind,” said Elliott. “We all see what we are pre-disposed to see, and healthy conflict is necessary for innovation.”

According to Elliott, healthy conflict occurs among people who appreciate and understand each other. When it works, healthy conflict allows different ideas, perspectives, or philosophies collide in a positive, productive way. That’s when innovation can occur.

On the other hand, Elliott said unhealthy conflict breaks down the creative process as people start taking things personally—devolving into unproductive arguments and “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” mentalities. It’s up to leaders to help create a safe zone for disagreement to occur by taking on the ideas, not the people, and by cultivating the skill to truly listen without judgment and consider the feedback thoughtfully.

Successful leaders, Elliott said, turn the organization chart upside down and realize that it’s the employees who make a difference. The best leaders devote themselves to selfless service to others, invest the time to develop self-awareness about themselves (and their blind spots), and actively seek to set the tone and model the behaviors they expect of others—including being willing to sacrifice and share successes.

For effective teamwork, employees need clarity through over communication from leadership, opportunities for buy-in on responsibilities and projects, and peer-to-peer accountability—that is, open and honest communication with each other instead of a tattle-tale buffer through managers. Teams based on trust, openness, accountability, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice for others ultimately yield better results, according to Elliott.