Teams poll results

3 Questions raised by the results of the Impact Teams Poll

We recently ran a poll that explored the barriers and enablers to team success within organisations. The responses are in and they paint an interesting picture. We look at 3 key questions they raise, and the implications they have on teams and organisations. David Cooper, Senior Consultant and Grahame Broadbelt, Head of Global Communication, both from Impact, share their responses and tips below:

1. Why aren't Boards high performing teams?

Our poll showed that only 12% think the Board is the highest performing team in their organisation. We asked David and Grahame what problems might be caused if the most senior teams in an organisation don't operate as an effective unit?

DC: I don’t think Boards see themselves as a Team and are likely not asked to be a Team. They serve rather as a collective voice of reason, challenge, governance, appointment, etc.  Are the duties of the Board accessible by a collective of individuals and egos approach? Clearly. Could a Board, and therefore the organisation, benefit from a more explicit teaming approach? That’s a question worth exploring. Given the importance of unified purpose and external alignment to the success of teams and organisations any Board that chooses to operate as a team, a high performance team, will surely reap the benefits of such. They will become more agile. They will serve the organisation in a much greater capacity. 

The risk in failing to address themselves and operate as a team in pursuit of higher performance is slower response times and decision making. Also, there could be lack of clarity in the messaging that cascades into the organisation. With the scrutiny that has been levelled upon many corporate boards in recent years - a shift in mindset and designation may serve an even greater purpose - to realign the mission and service of the Board to the organisation. A Board Team dedicated to understanding and aligning at every level of the organisation in service of the unifying purpose of that organisation is better equipped to uncover, understand, and help solve the issues that face the business.

GB: For me this is all about power and resulting turf wars. Much of the time people at the top see themselves as in competition with their fellow board members: for budget, for the ear of the CEO, for influence and for recognition. This mitigates against a team ethic however much a CEO would want it to be true. Senior teams, at their worst, can be incredibly toxic and difficult places to operate in where organisational politics is at its most potent and damaging. The paradox of that of course is that the Board are also there to provide effective leadership and governance of their organisation. The quality of governance is especially problematic and, arguably, contributed significantly to the scale and depth of the financial crash. Many people were left asking why Boards hadn’t noticed that things were going wrong or hadn’t asked the right questions. The answer is that in too many cases the board wasn’t acting as stewards of the organisation's future, rather they were focused on a subset of their own issues and so intrigued by that detail that they missed the big picture. We are of course in the same position now at a much bigger scale where so many organisations fail to see ‘the big picture’ of the social and environmental context within which they are operating. Too many senior teams are ignoring the futility of continuing to pursue individual business success within a wider system that is failing.

2. How can teams best deal with Competing Priorities?

Almost half of you (47%) said that dealing with competing priorities was the biggest challenge to team performance. To put the significance of this response into perspective, Poor Communication was a distant 2nd place at only 13% so among our respondents Competing Priorities is, by far,  the overriding performance challenge that teams are facing in our organisations. We asked ourselves -  Are there ways of turning this into an opportunity? Or at least ways of managing it?

DC: At a root level I believe that Competing Priorities is an issue related to the a team’s external alignment within the organisation. It is surely a conglomeration of issues and various cause and effect nuances that result in a number of competing priorities, though I believe these stem from a fundamental lack of alignment among the many stakeholders that engage with the team. Addressing these priorities therefore begins with an examination of our external alignment.  The relationship and stakeholder map that exists for a team, large or small, in any organisation stretches much further than many realise or acknowledge. The touchpoints, expectations, and deliverables that exist for a team are varied and vast. Two of the most important steps a team can take to address external alignment are:

  1. Create a relationship and stakeholder map for the team. Don’t be constrained by immediate day to day interactions. Capture all of the individuals, groups, and teams that you serve and that serve you, that you have expectations of and that have expectations of you, directly and indirectly - even those layers away from you.

  2. Test it. Work through those relationships, those stakeholders and compare notes. Have conversations with everyone to uncover the varying perspectives related to your team. Seek to understand the lens through which others view you and their expectations of you. In turn, ensure you are communicating and helping them to understand both your expectations of them and your team’s unified purpose.

These steps should open the awareness and dialogue necessary to help teams align needs, expectations, and priorities as well as providing the license and empowerment to challenge misaligned expectations that create competing priorities. 

GB: For me competing priorities are just a way of life in any organisation, in any team, on any day of the week. The performance issues are all about managing competing priorities effectively and not allowing disagreements about priorities or fragmentation of effort  to get in the way of overall effective performance. Some of this is simply about communication, being open, transparent and talking together to help the team navigate its priorities. Show me a team that is struggling to meet the demands of different priorities and i’ll show you a team that isn’t communicating honestly with each other.

The other piece of this i think also relates to team leadership. There are going to be moments in the life of any team where there are big calls to be made on what represents a priority and what doesn’t. it is the job of the leader to make those calls and stand by them. This relates to risk and how risk is managed in the organisation. the biggest risk is always to say an emphatic YES or NO. Fence sitting creates muddle which creates uncertainty around priorities, processes and responsibilities. Having a positive attitude to risk, trusting a team leader to make the big calls and to stick to their decision is a route to avoiding conflicting priorities getting in the way of performance.

Finally there is also the problem of the dissident team member, one who constantly undermines any decision on priorities that they don’t like. Apart from the occasional malevolent person most of the time dissidents are just good people who are badly motivated. Dissidents will go their own way in spite of any team decision or leadership position because ‘they know best’.

3. Given that people think Team Development needs to be a higher priority, why isn't it getting the investment it deserves?

70% of respondents said that their organisation did very little when it came to team development or could benefit from more investment. What is stopping decision makers from investing in this area?

DC: This may be a question of decision makers understanding the need differently. Decision makers may very well believe that they are investing in team development. The heavy investment in leadership development in many organisations today should arguably result in leaders with capacity to build and lead successful teams, right? Perhaps and perhaps not. I spend time with a lot of leaders that, in good faith and with very good intentions, devote time to team development via time away from the office for some fun - golf, bowling, dinner, etc. While the relationship building that this provides is a critical step in team development, often there is no follow up and no communicated intent behind the effort. There is no dialogue within the team to recognise the effort and translate that effort to increased team awareness, purpose, or cohesion. Decision makers may also misinterpret team development as the expensive large scale celebratory offsites that we often see billed as team building events when in contrast the most effective team development initiatives I have seen are grassroots and conducted team by team. A shift in perspective and understanding of the real team development needs in organisations could lead decision makers to approach this investment much differently. 

GB: I guess that before there is any decision to invest in team development there has to be a clear sense that such investment will deliver a return. We know from our own experience that there is a lot of ‘snake oil’ sales efforts out there, selling team building solutions that simply will not deliver but in a price sensitive market there will be moves to lower prices. Then, when the solution doesn’t work, there is a sense that no solution will work and team building generally ends up getting a bad name. Team building isn’t easy. We know how hard it is because we have been doing it for decades and we continue to learn.

At another level I also wonder how much investment organisations have in the status quo. I see that a lot. What i mean is that although a team might not be working as effectively as it could at least it is a known problem and there are workarounds; better to adapt to cope rather that challenge the status quo and look to transform performance with all of the implications that any kind of transformation brings. Resistance to change is a big factor in creating the sort of inertia that locks in poor performance and locks out a willingness to try to do something about it.

For more about Impact's approach to team development, please click here.

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