You’re ambitious and keen to prove yourself. You have delivered in your roles – consistently. You are now ready to show what you’re capable of and lead a team to do the same. Maybe you are a seasoned people manager and have been crying out for some stretch and variety in your role? 

The common thread that often flows through all of these scenarios is that you now understand the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’. Cue the ‘hospital pass’, as my husband calls it. The task, project or team only appears to be heading in one direction, and it’s not one that you want to be part of.  

You have been rewarded with the most challenging task in the organisation, or at least that’s how it feels. You have inherited a combination of demanding stakeholders and a performance good enough to avoid a performance improvement plan but not enough to deliver what is required. Time is not always on your side, so where do you start? 

There are lots of obvious things, such as clarity on the outcome or scope of the project, knowing the key deliverables etc. Still, this blog has been written to help you with the most unpredictable and challenging variable – the people. Whether it is a temporary project team or a team that you are managing on a day-to-day basis, the principles of building a high-performing team are the same. 

 Here are five things to get you started: 

1. Listen and observe
It’s a myth that you need to be doing most of the talking as the leader. Listening with exquisite attention is most definitely underrated. Exceptional leaders listen with full concentration and without interruption. The more attention you can pay to someone that is speaking, the more they are likely to share what matters. Listening to learn and understand is key, so watch out for interrupting habits. If we want people to do better, we first need them to think better. To think better we need to listen without interruption. 

“To be interrupted is not good. To get lucky and not be interrupted is better. But to know you will not be interrupted allows you truly to think for yourself.” Nancy Kline.  

2. Establish trust and transparency 
I have lost track of the number of times I have facilitated team sessions with the words’ trust and transparency’ on a flipchart. Everyone nods. No one participates. Let’s face it, your criteria for transparency could be poles apart from your colleagues. As a leader, you play a massive part in creating a culture of trust and transparency by the way that you show up every day. Writing it on a flipchart rarely moves the needle on this one. Think integrity, vulnerability and authenticity. We all make mistakes, admit them. When others make mistakes, help them learn from them. We all misunderstand from time to time, share it. When others misunderstand, be curious. We all need feedback to evolve, seek it.  Support others to evolve by prioritising it.  

3. Set expectations 
This one is simple but rarely done that well. The problem is that we have conscious and unconscious expectations. We make assumptions, and as ridiculous as it sounds, we often assume people know what we are thinking. I am not sure telepathy ever featured as a key leadership trait! Before you even think about communicating expectations, get clarity on them yourself. Write them down if necessary and identify your non-negotiables. Once you are ready to talk to your team, focus on being explicit and leave space to clarify. 

4. Support them 
Supporting them doesn’t mean micromanaging them or doing it for them. It does mean checking in with them regularly and using dialogue that helps them think for themselves, learn from their mistakes and be accountable for their results. If they are struggling with something, explore additional support such as training and development. Unless it is something technical, more often than not, they would probably benefit more from a robust coaching conversation that will leave them empowered and ready to take action that will course correct.  

5. Be courageous in your decision making 
What if the results are not coming in and you are running to a tight deadline? You may need to make some courageous decisions. There is a reason you are a leader in this organisation and making difficult decisions is probably one of them. If it feels out of integrity, you may want to look in the mirror first and ask yourself whether or not you have been explicit in your expectations and provided the appropriate support. In which case, you can loop back and course correct. No one likes helping someone exit from the team or project, but you can still do this with respect and compassion if it comes to the crunch.  

There are so many other variables that influence a high-performing team, but the points above are good to start. Get the basics right, and everything else will follow with more ease.  

I would love to hear what has worked for you when you have been in a high-performing team.

 Have a great week,
Jo x

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