Create a High Performing Team

Post by Jerry Baker on June 28, 2015

A good team and excellent teamwork are critical to creating a successful result, in any endeavor. We have all been part of a team, and we may be trying to build one. I know I learned a lot in managing, leading others and building a team by just watching others. More often than not it was what you should NOT do. We all have the ability to discern what works and doesn’t work, so don’t be afraid to use your instincts and common sense to build an awesome group of people who can work well together to achieve an important goal. A high level of teamwork is critical with all the change and growth that is occurring in most businesses. We talk about people pulling together to reach a common vision and goal with excellence. There is a certain synchronization that occurs when all the people involved are on that same page, working in unison to reach a well-understood goal or objective.

I thought about this in my own context of leading teams of 6,000 and eventually 15,000 employees. I like to think I came close, but when I reflect back I never really achieved perfect coordination and teamwork. Is it really possible? I believe it is, but it is certainly a “process” that you can’t give up on.

Teamwork and everyone working together in unison was vivid in a book I recently read, The Boys in the Boat.  It’s about a rowing team of depression-era boys who had to overcome very difficult personal situations just to be at the University of Washington and win a spot on the crew team. They knew about hard work and they certainly showed it when their teamwork came together to win the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Visualize this 8-man rowing team, and when they really connected –getting in the “swing” – they were rowing together in one synchronous movement, as one entity. It is a great metaphor on perfect teamwork.

This book – and many books written today about business often start with everyone sharing a common vision and goal, with everyone on the team pulling in a common direction.

  • It’s the ideal – everyone pulling the oars together
  • It’s seldom achieved – I’ve tried
  • It CAN be achieved – in small groups – building one high-performing team at a time

Here are key takeaways on building a great team:

  1. Team building is a conscious act. It is a deliberate process.  It is in many ways all about hiring right.  When you make a mistake in hiring, don’t fret about it; move on.
  2. Use a hiring checklist – the best ones are linked to your mission, and the specific skills and behaviors required. Whatever mission-driven skills are required don’t forget to include IQ (add a good dose of emotional intelligence as well).
  3. When you have the right people, retention is crucial. Retention is very simple; it’s a matter of happiness.  Your people are fulfilled, challenged and inspired.  You do need to wow them (in all the thrill of attracting new people to grow, don’t forget the importance of each person in the boat and retaining them).
  4. A key to retention is your need to pay generously, and it should be based on performance.

There are eight critical questions to ask yourself in order to build a great team:

  1. Are You Hiring to Your Culture? – Know the type of culture your team and company has or wants to create.

For example, do you expect people to speak up, not hold anything back?  I call it “dynamic tension”.  You want people on the team that care, not just go with the flow and don’t make waves.  You want everyone to participate, but once a decision is made, and they have had an opportunity to offer their input, they need to get on board.

You can certainly do this in a branch, because everyone is in one location, but I had the benefit of having all corporate employees in one location.  We had all new employees attend a half-day orientation.  I made a point of speaking to these new employees and talked about our culture and what we expected.  For our team it was “Teamwork, Hard Work and Integrity”.  We expected these attributes to be embraced by everyone. If they couldn’t go along with this simple commitment, it was time to say they picked the wrong company.

Every team and culture is different. Screen people that will fit in with what you want. Do it right up front. Perhaps it’s serving others, the value of the team versus the individual, etc. This goes for Top Producers as well.

  1. Does the Team Buy-In to Your Vision and Mission? – Does each person on your team know the direction and mission and his or her role? 

Knowing the vision and mission of the team and organization is huge.  In my opinion no one wants to be average. Everyone wants to be part of something special.

  1. Is Everyone Clear on His or her Job Responsibilities? – Does each person know their responsibilities and how they fit it? 

Understanding individual job responsibilities is critical, but often managers neglect to discuss them specifically enough.  They leave responsibilities too ambiguous.Months can go by and the excuse is “well I didn’t know I was to do that or I didn’t know that’s what you meant.”  No matter how you add it up, it’s lost time, which = lost momentum, which means lost opportunity.

  1. How Will Performance Be Measured and How Will Individuals and the Team Be Held Accountable? – Are you clear on what they are doing, and do they understand what they are accountable to do?

Metrics for individual and team performance need to be tracked daily and weekly and understood by all. You simply cannot achieve what’s not measured.  The metrics need to be simple – ideally no more than 5 or 6 – and shared broadly. If your team is small and part of a bigger picture, the metrics should all point in the same direction and add up or fit into the company’s vision and goal.

  1. Are You Paying Close Attention to What is Going On? – You need to get up and out of your office and go where the work gets done. 

It is a mistake not to get up from behind your desk and see what’s going on.  I understand the reasons for not doing this – there is too much work to be done.  But don’t fall victim to that excuse; you learn too much being out of your office by talking to the people who do the work.

Once you know the issues and concerns, address them immediately. Many of the things you discover are probably slowing the process down anyway.

  1. Are You Regularly Recognizing Results, both Team and Individual Performance? – Celebrate the milestones and victories along the way. 

Money is important, no question about it. BUT, people and teams need to be recognized for hitting goals and significant milestones. It is the recognition that keeps the momentum going.

  1. Are You Communicating Regularly?

You can always communicate more…even that is almost never enough. Communication is not always about talking or giving direction but listening to your team. Reinforce your message continually.

  1. How Are You Effectively Leading Your Team?

Consistency is key. What applies to one group should apply to all.  And as the leader, that goes for you too. Remember, they are always watching. Just like kids are always watch what the parents do, employees are watching what you do.

Where do you go from here?

So . . . how do you think you are doing as a manager and leader?  Would you give yourself high marks on all these areas?  Spend a few minutes and do a self-assessment.  Rate yourself a 5 if you were great at any one of the eight, and a 1 if you really need to improve or you’re not doing this step at all.  Do it for all 8 questions.

If you scored a 40, you are exceptional.  If you are at 32 or higher, you are doing very well.  If you are 31 or less, then there is work to do, but you now know the areas to focus on.  By intentionally focusing on these key areas, you can’t help but experience more of that teamwork magic.

Download our 8 Steps to Building the Best Team Tips Sheet.

Team Tips


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Jerry Baker
CEO Mentor

Jerry Baker joined Building Champions as a CEO Mentor in 2009. He has experienced the impact of coaching firsthand as a client and corporate partner of Building Champions. He most recently served as CEO, President and member of the Board of Directors of First Horizon National Corporation and First Tennessee Bank.

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