high performance

A High Performance Reality Check

Here’s a high performance reality check I use when I work with teams. It’s a quick start to team engagement and getting a sense of how highly the team is performing.

I recommend taking this pulse check when you're a new leader inheriting an existing team, in order to get to know them quickly. It’s great for teams committed to high achievement and a way to monitor steady improvement. It’s also effective for teams engaging in dysfunctional behaviours, which will show up clearly in contrast to the characteristics of high-performance.

Benefits of conducting such a check:

  • It paints a picture of how well the team believes it's doing.
  • It reveals blind spots that need to be addressed or differences in personal standards that need to be clarified to establish team norms and standards.
  • It reveals areas for team improvement.
  • It’s an opportunity to find out commitment levels to high-performance.
  • It grounds the team in strengths and what they do well. 
  • It offers ample opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate wins and what's working well.

Here’s how it’s done:

Post the characteristics of high performing teams on a whiteboard or screen. Ask each person to place a total of eight dots next to the traits they believe their team already excels at. It doesn't matter if the dots are evenly distributed or placed next to just one characteristic. The characteristics with the most dots represent the strengths of the team.

This kind of appreciative engagement approach (where are we doing really well?) energizes teams and creates a pathway to gratitude and appreciation for what works on the team while simultaneously highlighting areas that ranked lower and may need work. It’s an opportunity to engage the entire team in dialogue around what's working well and what needs to change, which emerges as a collective reality while also highlighting individual realities.

I recommend initiating a dialogue around the results and acknowledging specific observable behaviours that contribute to positive results so they can be replicated by everyone on the team.

What is it specifically we do well?

Why do we do this?

Who are we being when we do this?

This helps the team ground themselves in positive team norms, which is what makes them successful. Because acknowledgement is the greatest shaper in leadership, ask them how they'd like to celebrate their accomplishments. Be sure to capture what's working on a regular basis and reward positive behaviour when you observe it.

Looking at Areas for Improvement

To avoid a “yes, but” approach that would cancel out the things the team does well, I recommend looking at areas for improvement during a separate session. In this follow-up session I recommend initiating a dialogue with the team and interpreting the findings together. 

Here are some helpful questions to get the dialogue started:

  1. Why do you think our scores are low in this area? How low would you rank them on a scale from 1 – 10?
  2. How can we raise our score realistically?
  3. What do you believe needs to change in order to get there?
  4. What are some action steps we need to take?
  5. What would be our first step?

If the team scored low in many areas, identify the top three and focus on taking action in one area to start. Allow your team to experience a fast win and confidence in their ability to turn things around.

I hope you find this exercise helpful, and I’d love to hear about the results you’ve achieved, either in the comments below, or via email. 

8 Characteristics of High Performance Teams

  1. Sense of Purpose: Team members have a common and shared vision, goals, objectives and values. There's a strong focus on results and solutions, a sense of priorities, and clarity about directions, decisions and how we act.
  2. Open Communication: Team members express their thoughts and feelings openly, and conflict is surfaced and resolved routinely. People listen attentively and engage in dialogue.
  3. Trust and Mutual Respect: Team members value and support others. They tell each other the truth and provide honest and caring feedback.
  4. Shared Leadership: Team members assume leadership roles depending on the task at hand and the needs of the group. The formal leader serves as coach and mentor to the team.
  5. Effective Working Procedures: The team knows how to gather, organize and evaluate information. They encourage creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and they plan appropriately.
  6. Building on Differences: The team optimizes the skills, knowledge and personal strengths of its members. Individuals seek out different points of view and make use of outsiders.
  7. Flexibility and Adaptability: People see changes as opportunities, they share responsibility, and they look for continuous improvement.
  8. Continuous Learning: Team members encourage difficult and penetrating questions, learn from their experiences and mistakes, and encourage growth and development of other team members.