Performance · Aug 2, 2019

This is What Separates High Performing Teams from Everyone Else

In our previous two performance insights we’ve looked at why organisations need a shared goal, as well as the performance variables that give you the best chance of achieving it. In this article, we turn our attention to how teams can work together effectively.

Having a shared team goal is important, but if your team aren’t able to work well together, they will likely never reach the performance they need to achieve the result. High-performing teams deliver stronger results, faster. They learn more quickly, get the best out of each other and are fun to be a part of.

A team capable of achieving a Crazy Goal requires a clearly defined set of team behaviours, a feedback culture, and the ability to utilise everyone’s talent to its full potential.

Team behaviours – driving a feedback culture

Ben and the crew knew that if they were going to win Gold in the Sydney Olympics, they were all mutually reliant on each other to make it happen. As Ben writes in his book, “In 1998 we were a rubbish team, by 2000 we were a good team. You’ve got to work on the team as much as you’ve got to work on the outcome”.

In order to get the best out of each other, they came up with a list of behaviours among themselves that they knew had led to their best performances in the past. This became their Team Charter; an actively agreed upon list of do’s and don’ts- a team contract that everyone signed up to.

This charter enabled them to hold each other to account. Is everyone doing what they said they would do? They had a clear goal already, and understood what they had to focus on to get there so it then became about what behaviours they needed to encourage (or stop), to make their boat go faster. Crucially:

  • The rules were developed by the crew
  • Specific
  • Constantly discussed & refined
  • Simple
  • Understood by everyone


Ben’s Crew’s Team Rules From The Olympic Village

The Team Charter was crucial to the crew’s success as it allowed them to constantly feedback on specific behaviours and parts of each other’s performance in a fair and objective way. The same need applies for business. Research suggests teams need to be able to feedback to each other to effectively hold each other to account and get the best out of each other.

Hancock and Schaninger’s research reinforces the need to have regular objective performance reviews. Of those surveyed, the majority of CEOs don’t find performance management helpful in identifying top performers. Over half of the individuals surveyed didn’t find their managers performance reviews helpful. To understand this, they analysed companies with 84%+ of respondents rating performance management systems as effective (the perceived top performing teams) and several key factors stood out as common denominators:

  • Linking performance goals to business priorities- be absolutely clear on how each individual’s role goals contribute to the business’ success
  • Differentiating compensation – structuring bonuses, rewards and raises relating to meeting those performance goals in a fair way across departments
  • Empower managers to give better feedback – provide them with training to do so
  • Peer-based feedback – gathering feedback from multiple people gives a more comprehensive analysis
  • Coach employees on a regular basis

In addressing these key areas, they concluded that in order to get the most out of performance management, managers need to have ongoing constructive conversations with employees where they feel comfortable feeding back and can easily celebrate successes and highlight areas of improvement.

Case Study: feedback culture, driven by objective performance review

One of our clients in the IT industry has recently been named number 1 on the The Sunday Times “100 Best UK companies to work for award”. Their Crazy Goal was to “be a great place to work, to provide a great service for our customers”. Upon interviewing them it was clear they attributed a lot of their success to embedding their company values into performance reviews. They emphasised the importance of their values by making it a part of the recruitment criteria in hiring for any role. Anyone applying to work there had to justify why the values were important to them as individuals, and would agree to work by them.

In 1:1s with managers, employees and their managers would rate each other, on how they lived up to the values as well as workload and positivity metrics based on scores out of 10. These scores were all fed into their performance metrics system. Where someone is underachieving e.g. getting consistently low ratings for a month on a particular value, this allows an objective conversation to evolve around where they can concentrate their attention in a certain area to improve. This also provided leaders with a useful overview into organisational health which could be broken down to specific employee relationships, or how wider departments were performing on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

Most importantly, the performance reviews ingrained a shared language and feedback culture whereby employees felt comfortable regularly reviewing performance against the behaviours they saw in the day-to-day working environment.

In much the same way as Ben and the crew’s Team Charter and Hancock & Schaninger’s research recommends, our client was able to find a way to embed feedback as a part of their routine, allowing the team behaviours and performance that drive business progress to be consistently discussed, reviewed and applied across the organisation.

Utilising the talent in your team

Beyond those who were physically in the boat, Ben and the crew knew that they needed their Olympic team of technical coaches, physios, managers and broader team to achieve their Crazy Goal. As Ben writes in his book, “they may not have been in the boat actually pulling the oars, but Shambles, [Chris Shambrook the psychologist] and Harry and Martin, the coaches, were crucial to making the boat go faster.”

The multinational food company Danone exemplify utilising their talent in their programme Networking Attitude- a program where they encourage staff to work across business units and locations. Using a digital platform, employees can put their skills on to a “knowledge marketplace” and sign up to discussions and projects that may be relevant to them if they have a particular interest in them. An internal report described how through this they shared 33 best practices across geographical sites. Likewise, the platform allowed Danone Brazil to help Danone France launch a new dessert in response to market competition which became a €20 million initiative. Danone found a way of utilising experience and skills in a much more dynamic way than a traditional hierarchical business might.

Creating a team that has an open feedback culture, reviews performance against behaviours of the business’s values, and utilises its talent to its potential, gives a business team the best chances of progressing towards and achieving their Crazy Goal.

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