12 Things That Destroy Energy in High Performing Teams

dancing teams

Earlier in my career I was fortunate enough to lead a £40M British Aerospace commercial aircraft customisation project, delivering 5 Advanced Turbo Prop (ATP) aircraft for British Airways.

It was a game changing project in many ways…

  • The first pilot project using Goal Directed Project Management (GDPM) techniques, to enhance effective multi-disciplinary team working and performance delivery.
  • It was the first project within a Simultaneous Engineering change programme, enabling shifts of old ‘silo mentality’ working practices across the strongly functional organisation.
  • It provided clear evidence of radical improvement, which was used to justify the redesign of a highly functional organisation, into a new process based organisation structure, using principles and protocols of matrix management and new project and process management team reporting structures.
  • It provided impetus to create and implement a company wide change programme called New Horizons.
  • It helped position the importance of team facilitators and internal change agents, working within project teams across the organisation, at a time when no such performance support systems or services had previously existed.

Business Performance Implications

The project exceeded expectations by reversing the ‘late to contract date’ performance, throughout the earlier delivery programme of some 40 previous aircraft, with all 5 aircraft being delivered on time. This avoided heavy customer penalty payments and turned around the image of the company, with new customers.

The dynamics of effective project leadership and team working were fundamentally shifted and aircraft performance delivery was drastically improved from that point on.

In addition, the project was used as a case study in the subsequent year for The Sunday Times Best Practice Business Innovation video series.

Personal Implications

On the back of this success, I went on to lead a hand picked team of facilitators and internal change agents to support project teams implement the new GDPM working practices.

Subsequently my role shifted to delivering high level business change interventions, across a corporation of 44,000 employees.

Since then I have helped many other companies in many different industries improve their creativity, problem solving and performance delivery in general.

Being part of such a turnaround success story, so early on in my career, fuelled a growing desire to make a positive difference on a much wider scale and make change happen in other aerospace divisions and industry sectors.

From many practical change management experiences, emerges a list of things that I have personally seen destroy:-

  • effective leadership
  • the positive energy behind high performing teamwork
  • results delivery

12 Things that Destroy Energy in High Performing Teams

If you address these themes effectively, then you are well on the way to delivering high performance teamwork…

1. Vague vision and unclear planning

What does the overall game-plan look like?

A great benefit of GDPM is that it creates Results Path thinking, in the minds of the leader and multi-disciplinary team.

This can be enhanced further, by using right to left planning techniques, which help everyone begin with a much clearer roadmap and end game in mind. Having facilitated discussions on this seemed invaluable to all concerned.

2. Poor organisation with unclear roles and accountabilities

Who is doing what, why and when?

Again a great benefit of GDPM is the emphasis of both planning and organising. The Responsibility Matrix allows clear definitions upfront for who is accountable, responsible, executing work, making joint or individual decisions, managing progress and also, who is needing to be consulted or informed – for each top level milestone.

This clarity enables delegation of leadership to a milestone team member and paves the way for some degree of self managing teamwork, with clear controls and reporting structures in place.

3. Internal politics and blame games vs. customer focus

Many business and project cultures revolve around ego’s and associated power and control issues.

Shifting emphasis from useless blame games and internal self serving interests, to the unifying force of satisfying and delighting waiting customers, is one key way of derailing and bypassing established ego systems.

4. Unchecked conflict and disputes

‘A stitch in time saves 9’ is very true here.

Providing space and time to open up areas of conflict and discord within or across teams and get people back into adult, solution focussed conversation, becomes essential, the longer things are left to fester and deteriorate.

Facilitated discussions often enabled huge progress to be made, by bringing in a ‘no axe to grind’ third party, to run solution finding workshop discussions.

5. Inauthentic and harsh, uncaring leadership

Leaders with great ‘hard skills’ and limited ‘soft skills’ are nowadays becoming redundant.

Having previously been in old style production line meetings, with constant shouting, ritual humiliation and verbal abuse as standard, those behaviours wont usually be tolerated by top talent.

Whilst these types of behaviours are still present in some businesses today, its clearly ‘past its sell by date’ in most reasonably advanced business cultures. Using emotional intelligence, social responsibility and inspiring leadership styles are obvious examples of the future of acceptable business practice.

6. Poor stakeholder communications and engagement

A wonderful company change project leader once told me ‘We don’t work harder than our sponsors!’

Engaging sponsors, champions and gatekeepers, especially on significant change projects is a fast route to wider commitment building and overall success.

Whilst it may add some content themes within the project itself, offering to help key stakeholders create more value through your project, is a great way to on-board key players early. The extra work required will usually pay off many times, given the commitment gained. Regular communications and updates will keep them in touch with you and your shared priorities and create new opportunities to receive support from them.

Project teams with working stakeholder maps are usually more successful in building wider engagement to their cause. Especially when operating in a multi-project working environment, competing for limited resources and encountering conflicting priorities.

Having personally trained over 1000 active project and programme managers within Airbus and BAe Systems, the No.1 ‘high value take away’ for application back in the workplace, was stakeholder mapping.

7. Bureaucracy and red tape

Have you had a visit from the ‘Jobsworths’ (its more than my jobs worth to help…) and ‘Tick Box Men’?

After reading ‘Further Up The Organisation’ by Robert Townsend, I used to walk around with my resignation letter in my pocket and present it to anyone who threatened to stop the teams progress with seemingly unnecessary red tape.

I would ask them to take the resignation letter to my change sponsor, at Director/VP level, and tell them why I had asked them to do so. Besides the shock and awe approach, there are clearly many other ways to navigate red tape.

A less radical and perhaps more sensible approach, involves getting a representative of these so called ‘blocking’ areas, in the team at the beginning, during mobilisation, instead of creating separation and distance. This often helps mutual understandings of their perspectives and ‘boxes to tick’ early on, within the wider team, allowing statutory requirements to be properly considered, during early planning.

8. Stress, overwhelm and burn out

Personal stress is a mind killer. Stress is caused by fear.

When fears are left unresolved, burnout or systemic dis-ease eventually occurs. Stress often leads to paralysis and getting stuck or bogged down, to the extent of becoming ineffective and sometimes becoming a threat to the overall team success.

Good leaders and team members will spot signs early on and get in there to see what they can do to help. Often the simple action of offering help can serve to reconnect lost resources within the person affected.

Careful monitoring, handholding and honest discussions are vital to creating ways through this and out the other side. Replacing people is a last resort and turnaround is the more human choice.

9. Ineffective systems and processes

Sometimes business systems are just crap. Its a sadly unspoken truth.

The underlying business processes are not clearly mapped out and standard system functionality can force unnatural and wasteful workflows across departments and teams. Often it is a ‘blind spot’ because people don’t know any better than what they have got to work with.

Leaders and teams have choices upfront, around tackling known inefficiencies as part of their teams remit, or proposing, sponsoring, connecting with other improvement and redesign teams, that are working in common, affected areas.

Extending the terms of reference of the teams deliverables is something to be discussed properly with the team leader and senior management sponsor, early on. It may be the sponsor has to set up another team to work on longer term threats to business performance delivery.

10. Over the wall ‘silo working’ mentality

People can become very tribal and narrowly focussed.

When egos are controlling the prevailing attitudes and mindsets, especially within certain organisation types, this can promote and encourage division and separation between working groups.

A lot of waste is attributed to the lack of high quality business processes. Ways of working that have somehow evolved around power centred organisation structures, instead of optimised workflows, promote ‘over the wall’ working practices. Work packages get thrown back and forth over walls, until finally the problems are resolved. But at what cost?

Understanding the flow of value between internal customers, suppliers and partners, as well as external ones, can cut through the limiting mindsets and open peoples minds to better teamwork and internal cooperation.

11. Lack of high quality exploration, discussion and solution building spaces

Great teams need effective working and thinking spaces.

This is even more important when teams are not co-located. If teams cant get together to explore the underlying issues affecting performance and results delivery and get to the heart of problems and resolve them, then ‘elephants in the room’ never get exposed.

Team progress review sessions can be extended to include working together on critical delivery issues and often having a facilitator to guide the exploration and resolution process into informed decision making and action taking, is often highly beneficial.

12. Denial and pretence

No one ever achieved much by keeping their heads in the sand. Someone once said ‘Denial is a terrible thing’. Maybe it was Ace Ventura, Pet Detective!

However we process this fundamental human truth, its essential that the leader and team stay in complete reality together, and avoid any convenient pretences to keep the peace, maintain the broken status quo, or keep their heads down, etc.

This takes varying degrees of bravery and courage to call the shots on conveniently ignored critical issues, but the consequences of ignoring them, can devastate the best of team endeavours.

And finally, effective teams need agreed ‘ground rules’

Setting up clearly agreed and regularly referenced Ground Rules, designed for and by the team, in order to operate effectively together, is a fundamental starting point with any new team formation and mobilisation.

This provides an opportunity to create a new blueprint for success, that every team member and leader can buy into up front and use as a ‘code of conduct’ for that teams working culture.

I have previously provided teams I have both led and facilitated, with yellow (caution) and red (send off) cards, to hold up when someone is not respecting the agreed ground rules for the team. Again this makes the process of taking responsibility for team working, everyones shared concern, and not just the leaders job.

Nick Le Clere is a strategic change consultant and facilitator, executive leadership coach, trainer, innovator and speaker, running online webinars and learning events for conscious business leaders of the future.
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