Successful businesses do well because of their amazing teams, not their products and services. Many of us will probably agree that people and teams are the most valuable asset any business possesses and also your most critical competitive advantage. Ultimately, ideas can be copied, modified, and upgraded. However, it is difficult to copy teams and/or steal them (well, most of the time). Furthermore, a well-functioning team is more productive and efficient and thus delivers more value and output for the same money. However, this is all a moot point if you are not unleashing the power of your team. If your team is not producing and performing at its best, you are not enjoying these benefits and are susceptible to competition. This puts you in a position to have to fight competition in more dangerous (i.e. costly, detrimental, etc.) battlefronts like pricing and advertising.
Building and developing a high performing team requires many important ingredients. However, there is one fundamental element that forms the foundation for high performing teams and that is clear and concise objectives and roles. To use a sports metaphor, consider one of the most high performing soccer teams in the world, FC Barcelona. They are very clear about their objectives (i.e. hold the ball, control the flow of the game, take high percentage shots). For the record, not all soccer teams have the same objectives. They also have clearly defined roles and operational strategies for how they execute their objectives. For a better understanding of what this looks like in action, click on the image of the team for a short video. You can see from the video how their team looks like a thinking and breathing organism of its own. It’s not about one person. It’s about an entire team coming together.
The following is a list of steps necessary to ensure you too have a strong foundation from which to develop your high performance team.
1. Design and consistently communicate clear and concise business objectives. This typically begins with the vision of the organization – a clear picture of what, where, and how the business will look, feel, and operate at some point in the future. The vision also includes what the environmental context will look, feel, and operate like in the future. In other words, this is the future that the organization is running after. Next comes the mission. This will clearly communicate “how” your business will run toward the vision. From the mission, come your specific objectives. The more clear the vision and mission are, the more easily you can create, communicate, and evaluate objectives for the business. These clear and concise objectives are critical to the foundation of high performing teams because it gives way to the next important step.
2. Design the operational strategy, plan, and processes that will define how the business operates in order to achieve its objectives and execute its mission on a consistent basis. Imagine your business as a thinking and breathing organism. When you design your business operations strategically, your business takes on a life of its own. This has many benefits from a competitive and operational perspective. Competitively, it is difficult to copy or steal an entire operations strategy and process. Operationally, it means that the business does not rely solely on people like the owners or top executives to operate successfully. Instead, the leaders can focus on doing what they are supposed to do – lead – while the business is positioned to operate efficiently and effectively on its own. With this strategy and plan in mind, you are now ready to begin the next critical step.
3. Design clearly defined and concise roles that support your operational strategy. With your operational strategy, plan, and processes, you now have what you need to design the most effective roles for your organization. These roles will be the ones necessary to maintaining the operation and if clearly defined and communicated, your team will have a deep understanding of the essential role they play within your operational context. Furthermore, when roles are designed clearly and fit effectively into an operational context, it significantly reduces friction (i.e. employee stress, operational inefficiencies, miscommunication, etc.) in the business.
Equipped with this strong foundation, you can begin to build and develop your high performance team. This insight is just as important for a three-person company as it is for a 20,000-person organization. Two weeks ago, I was coaching a startup company that was suffering from some friction and we realized it was due to a lack of clearly defined objectives and roles.
Leaders from successful startup businesses, with anywhere between 2-10 employees, all the way to Fortune 100 companies like General Electric (specifically during the Jack Welch era) have leveraged this framework for building and developing powerful teams.
Start by evaluating your vision, mission, and objectives. Then look at your business-wide operational strategy to ensure it lives and breaths to accomplish the objectives and execute on your mission. Finally, take a look at the roles in your organization to ensure you have all of the right people on the bus and sitting in the right seats.