Five top ways to optimise your team to get the best results

One of a leader's key responsibilities is to optimise their team for high performance. There are certainly hundreds of ways to do this. Here are the top 5 ways I've found that deliver the best results

Five top ways to optimise your team to get the best results

One of a leader’s key responsibilities is to optimise their team for high performance. There are certainly hundreds of ways to do this. Here are the top 5 ways I’ve found that deliver the best results, drawn from my own entrepreneurial journeys, my time at McKinsey, and from the 70+ companies I’ve invested in and/or advised to date.

Inspire beyond the company 

One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to inspire is by creating (and co-creating if you can) a mission or purpose that goes beyond the company and its
stakeholders. Too many times I hear purposes along the lines of Become the #1 provider in such and such market. Sounds great. The problem is a lot of employees can’t relate as it’s fairly self- serving for the company, and not many others. And whether the company ends up #1 in their market versus #8 might not make much difference to them personally. 

My time helping build Skype was hugely influential for me. One of the things we did very well at Skype was come up with an inspiring purpose. The whole world can talk for free was the tagline, which created a revolutionary spirit within the company. Can I say that tagline led to our sale for over $2 billion? Of course not.
There were many other factors too. But I can say it had a huge part in it, as every single person on the team felt like they were makingthe world a better place.

Co-create goals. 

Involve your entire leadership team in the creation of your quarterly goals. People are much more likely to buy-in if they’re given the chance to weigh-in, and having everyone’s full commitment is essential in order to hold people accountable. My preferred rhythm to do this is the following: Two weeks before the quarter ends the leadership team meets and evaluates progress against the current quarter’s goals while also co-creating the next quarter’s. Even though the quarter hasn’t ended, all the teams should be able to predict their likelihood of achieving their goals. Finance in this regard should also be able to provide draft numbers or estimates on financial targets. I’ve found that it’s much more important to hit the ground running on the 1st of the month, at the start of the quarter, rather than wait until two weeks in. 

Once company goals have been agreed the leadership team members should then hold similar sessions with their functional teams (eg, operations, finance, marketing, etc.) to agree on their team’s goals, which should support the company’s goals and/or continuous improvement of the business function. For example, the Finance team may or may not come up with team goals that directly support the company’s quarterly goals, but there may be several goals they can achieve to further improve the Finance function in the 90 days ahead. Once all team goals have been agreed each leader should submit them for approval to the CEO, and once company goals and individual team goals have been agreed it’s time for the quarterly town hall, where progress on the previous quarter is celebrated and plans for the next quarter are shared. 

Develop One Big Thing

Every quarter ensure every member of the team has one thing they are personally trying to improve, and here’s the key – it should be One Big Thing that will increase the output of either the team they’re on, or the team they manage.

If you’re at the top make sure you’re asking those below you what
they think your one thing should be. After all if you want to know how you’re
doing as a leader, ask those you lead.

A fantastic way to discover everyone’s one big thing is to do what I call an abbreviated live 360. Gather your team and solicit feedback from the group, one person at a time. First ask everyone to think about the one thing the selected person does that most contributes to the performance of the team. Second, ask everyone to think about the one thing the person does that most hurts the performance of the team. Everyone should come up with their responses individually, and responses should only be shared directly with the person. Begin going around the room sharing all the positive feedback first, person by person. Then begin to share the constructive feedback, person by person. In a team of five for example, each person will then have heard 4 positive things said openly to them, followed by 4 constructive things. The beauty of this is that it’s all in the open, which also helps build trust within the team.

Traffic-light progress weekly

In the weekly team meeting (at the leadership team level and functional team levels as well) ask everyone to publicly state whether they are green, amber, or red on their quarterly goals, in terms of their likelihood of achieving them. The reds and ambers should generate great discussions, especially when everyone takes off their functional hats and is encouraged to chip in. Team members should think jointly, “How can we help get this goal back on track?” or “What could [insert team member name] do differently to remedy the situation?”

When teams are required to publicly score themselves, week-after-week, a greater sense of responsibility and collaboration emerges.

Mine for conflict

High performing teams are constantly on the lookout for conflict, and when they sense it, they step into it. This could include differing points of view, heated disagreements, or performance-related conversations. I always put differing points of view and disagreements right out in the open. For example, “Rebecca, last week you mentioned you felt very positive about our new marketing partnership. Henry, I understand you don’t share these same feelings, and are concerned about the partnership. Let’s get everything out on the table so we can benefit from everyone’s perspective and make the right decision going forward.” Encourage the team to celebrate their different points of view. Remind the team to be super grateful for the varied perspectives as it helps the team make better decisions.

When it comes to performance-related conversations I take these privately, with the individual in question. If their job is on the line then I let them know as soon as possible, so they understand the gravity of the situation. I also ensure everything has happened training and motivation-wise on the company side, to give them the best chance for success. But if the performance is simply not up to scratch, despite efforts to improve, or if the attitude is incongruent with the company’s values, then I act quickly and let the person go.

As previously mentioned there are many ways to optimize teams for high performance, but I’ve found the 5 ways above to deliver the biggest bang for the buck.

Eric Partaker
Eric Partaker

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