Have you ever completed an obstacle course… On your own?

Picture this, you have just scraped your knees crawling through a tunnel, mud all over you and heavy with water. Your feet are blistered, sweat is stinging your eyes. You hear your heartbeat in your ears and the sharp panting of breath. You are fatigued and in survival mode. You look up to see the dreaded wall. It is ten feet high.

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Too high to jump up, no ropes and it is stopping you from reaching your goal. If only you had a team… Even one other person and you could complete the course.

In crisis, much like obstacle courses there are those who choose to go it alone and self-protect, preferring to minimise personal risk at the expense of the team. They are 50/50 on success and failure. Then there are those that double down on teams and increase their odds of succeeding by sharing a common vision and providing different perspectives to problem solving and communicating effectively.



Share the load

In an average or sub performing team, people are happy to watch other people do the lion’s share of the work, the late hours and own all the pressure and responsibility. They would rather see themselves succeed and the team fail so that they appear strong. In a High Performing Team (HPT), people focus on the overall success and reputation of the team. They put team success before self and proactively search for work. They understand that sharing the fatigue and the burn so that everyone can perform means that nobody gets left behind. While they share the work and their fatigue so that the team achieves more, they all actively seek to be involved in planning at all levels.

Shared planning and supportive decision making

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There is a place for planning in isolation and it usually means there are substantial time pressures or trust issues within the team. A leader who doesn’t trust the team will not value their input into decisions. If they have been burned before, they will want to remove that possibility. In a HPT, everyone’s opinion is valued. It is understood that a wide range of perspectives on an issue may yield a better solution. The team also knows that when a decision is made, the time for shared planning is over and its implementation time!! 

They align and get it done. They support the decision because they understand the importance of achieving the goal and they were involved in the planning. They leverage and reinforce their relationships and maintain open, supportive communication.

Build relationships and a team language

Ever wondered how HPTs can work with minimal communication, or when they do you can’t really understand them. It is like watching a group of soldiers use hand signals and you are standing there, having no idea. They have refined the way they speak to include their history, shared experiences, values and connection to remove superfluous chat. They still have fun and they still care for each other. However, when work needs to get done, they can streamline their language. They know they work from a position of care and support. The HPT will work to strengthen relationships and networks in the good times so that they can lean on each other in crisis. They are calm and deliberate in their actions and communication because they understand that the team’s reputation is more important than their own. These relationships and shared language help understand and communicate the context while implementing the vision.

Clear context and vision

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A team that works to understand and communicate the context in which they operate will be able to make decisions in the absence of leadership, direction and under extreme pressure. They share a common vision for success and work within the boundaries of the defined context. Pushing authorities and decision making as far down as you can, will allow a team to create momentum and take advantage of opportunities. This also mitigates risks associated with slow decision making. The key part of owning the context and implementing the vision is a shared trust in every member of the team.

Trust

HPTs trust each other to a point where they receive feedback without feeling hurt. They understand that the feedback is coming from a place of love and respect to build the overall team and is not a personal attack. They trust that when someone says they will do something, they do it. The behaviour and trust are forged through shared experience and values. They also understand that they will be represented well even when they aren’t in the room.

The steps

The theory of teams is built on a model originally published by Dr Bruce Tuckman. It encapsulates Forming, Storming. Norming. Performing. Adjourning. These steps are normal, linear (step through to build a team) and cyclical in nature (it can relapse back steps at any time) and cannot be skipped. Friction in the storming phase is normal, temporary and MUST happen. A HPT will minimise their time in both storming and norming to accelerate reaching performing. They will also have limited relapses to storming by:

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1. Sharing the workload

2. Conducting shared planning and supportive decision making

3. Building relationships and a team language

4. Having a clear context and shared vision

5. Building trust

6. Acknowledging the steps.

The point 

By understanding what a successful team looks like, how it operates and some of their characteristics, we can work to constantly improve our own teams. There is no secret that, teams are always evolving and constantly changing. Understanding the context allows you to have clarity and accommodate for the disruptions. The steps above are not exhaustive and based on my experiences and opinions. I will say this though, once you have been part of a HPT, you will understand the addictive nature of it. You want it back all the time and will fight to have it again. 

So, if I return to the scenario above. Imagine you are back in that obstacle course and you are looking up at the wall. You are fatigued, tired, wet and sore. Suddenly someone says, “you got this!” A hand reaches down from the top to grab yours and at the same time you are lifted to grasp it. Doesn’t it make a difference?

Jonathan Clark is the director and co-founder of The Eighth Mile Consulting based in Sunshine Coast, Australia. Working with organisations, we facilitate change management, strategy development and risk management initiatives. We are good people, helping good people. We support positive projects and positive people.

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