Updated: Sep 27
There are so many books about the power of teams and how to make them stronger. Based on the hundreds of teams I have encountered, all that rhetoric is not working. Most teams are average teams. Here are five reasons why:
True Lack of Knowledge
People largely aren’t reading the books, or if they are, they are not applying the principles correctly. People work hard to be tremendous marketers or strong financial professionals. They learn how to be good team members in sports and in schools. Look at sports…professional teams live the basics of how to get a combined better effort through strong team basics. I’m a die-hard Patriots fan for many reasons, but a main reason is the selflessness in which each player approaches the game. They will play out of position if it is better for a particular game or for the team overall. They know how to be a strong team member. They live the basics each week without fail, and if they don’t, and they fail that week, they go back to the playbook on how to work as a team even better.
Big aha – Miscommunication in companies with less than 100 employees’ costs on average $420k per company per year. (Barraclough, 2021)
Pro tip – Like anything else, how to lead a team requires deep expertise and ownership of both the big and the small stuff.
Book recommendation - Jersey: The All Blacks: The Secrets Behind the World’s Most Successful Team by Peter Bills
Team of Leaders
Many times, I walk into an organization, the company is led by a strong set of folks who are functional leaders. The CFO leads his or her areas. The Head of Sales does the same. High-performing companies work to transition from a team of leaders to a true leadership team. Picture the avengers who lock arms and fight the enemy together. Leadership teams who come together and lead the enterprise together…care about each other’s priorities and talent as much as their own…get transformational results. One client is just cracking the code of the power that lies within and is starting to realize truly what it means to lead together across the enterprise. Not only are we seeing immediate success, but this company is going to skyrocket to tremendous growth.
Big Aha – Connected teams generate 4.5x higher retention (Bit, 2021)
Pro Tip - Deep work of understanding the difference between being a team of leaders vs. a leadership team is often extremely enlightening and worth the work.
Book Recommendation - Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great by Wageman, Nunes, Burruss, & Hackman
Lack of Coaching
We rely on people who are currently leading the team or are a team member to create transformation to be a high-performing team. You need a professional. You don’t pull your accountant in to coach your professional basketball team. It takes expertise and knowledge on how to be a high-performing team to ultimately be a high-performing team. You need someone who has been to that rodeo many times who can translate that experience into making it a reality for a given team.
Big Aha – Connected teams have a 21% increase in profitability vs. non-connected teams (Harter, 2020)
Pro Tip – Hire a professional to help you navigate this evolution and for regular tune-ups.
Book Recommendation - The Team Coaching Toolkit: 55 Tools and Techniques for Building Brilliant Team by Llewellyn
Lack of incentive
Another big reason that stands in the way of enabling a team to be high-performing is the lack of incentive. If paying attention to their own function or own line of business creates more wealth for them or makes their lives easier, why would they behave differently? The promise of doing something on a bigger platform and the promise of increasing wealth (or making your bonus) are bankable incentives that incite people to work to truly be better together. One European leadership team was encouraged to work as a unit rather than individual businesses. The first year, the senior leaders lost money having their compensation to others. That’s not sustainable. Why would people stay for that? However, if they dig in and commit, the path of other successful companies before them would tell you it can help create great results.
Big Aha – People at highly trusted companies report 74% less stress, 13 fewer days off, 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity, 76% more engagement, 40% less burnout (Rajagopal, 2021)
Pro Tip – Fully examine what is incenting/encouraging people to act in these ways and what disincentives standing in the way of these people behaving in desired ways for the team.
Book Recommendation – Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders by Wheelan
One of the biggest causes of mediocre teams is, frankly, laziness. It takes hard work to be a high-performing team. Do you want to be a great tennis player? Do you need to grind, practice, get out of bed early to do reps, listen to your coach, spend time perfecting your craft? Are most teams doing that? No. Everyone wants to be a high-performing team, but most aren’t willing to do the good work to get there. Once you are there, like getting fit, it is much easier to maintain. So, companies who do real work to enable high-performing teams are often able to stay at that level with maintenance. One client has been a good performing organization, but they have the potential to be an outrageously performing organization. It hasn’t been because they were complacent about their success. With a new CEO, watch this company explode!
Big Aha – High performance teams are five times more productive. (Tahir, 2020)
Pro Tip – Complacency is the slow death of organizations. If people are not up for the job after doing the right things to engage them, change out your talent.
Book Recommendation - Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Lencioni
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