Author Archives: georgia

Team Performance, Sustainability and Bananarama

A little while ago, I worked with a senior leadership team in a FTSE 100 company, which was grappling with how to measure its ‘performance’. Team members were bonused on delivering against particular KPIs, and both individual and team outcomes would be under the microscope, which put an edge in the conversation, as you can imagine. One section of the KPIs, recently introduced into that business, was not on what was to be delivered, the output, but on how it was delivered. This was a new indicator of ‘performance’. It was about values, behaviours, relationships and leadership qualities displayed, and how staff felt about the leadership team.

It seems that one of the great pop tie-ups of the 1980s, The Fun Boy Three and Bananarama was close to the truth in declaring:

‘Its not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results.’

Why is ‘how you do it’ so important? For me, its important because in an age in which short term gain has caused so much damage to the world economy, we need to look at how to create performance that is sustainable – and that requires us to look at metrics other than output. Lets look at this from the leadership team’s perspective.

Close but no cigar…

No good hitting the numbers this year and then witnessing an exodus of team members because they can’t stand being in the business a moment longer. If they deliver but feel burnout, unwell, unappreciated, and as if they are stagnating, that won’t help the business. And customers get this too – they know what quality looks like. If the product is great but the customer service is shocking (because you are not leading it well because, lets face it, all things are connected), they will not buy.

A solution for you and your team

For some time now, we have been inviting teams and individual leaders we work with to look at what they wish to create and what they are already creating though may not be aware of. We ask them to rate each of the following four areas in relation to their work together, out of 10 – both on how it is now as well as how they would like it to be:

  1. Performance – How is the team performing? What output is being created? (Time, cost, quality are good words to use here.)
  2. Learning – Are team members learning together, expanding their collective capacity to deliver? Are they developing the knowledge skills and abilities, which will assist team delivery and longer term careers?
  3. Enjoyment – Is the team a source of joy and satisfaction, adding a spring to the step? Do they look forward to pursuing the team’s goals?
  4. Meaning – Is the team pursuing something important, something that is meaningful to team members? Something they can share with others and be proud of being part of?

To help, we put this in a pictorial form on a flip chart. Do the scoring at a break in the meeting, inviting private scoring by turning the flip chart into the corer of the room.

Diamond eg

The proposition is that each of these areas contributes to sustainability. The more the team can learn together, the more powerful they will be together; the more they enjoy their work as a team, the more they will produce; the more meaningful they find their work, the more they will put in that discretionary effort, go the extra mile.

Then the conversation

Once done, the team can examine where the scores. These questions can contribute to the all-important conversation:

  1. Where is the team now and what has contributed to that?
  2. Where would the team like to be and what makes this compelling?
  3. What can you do, individually and collectively, to move this forward?

Team members start to share what is important for them, what they need to be successful and how they will reach and sustain performance.

This becomes a ‘jumping off point’ for a whole raft of conversations from goal setting to how they lead the business through to the culture they create. The more practical, focused conversation, the more alignment there will be. The more alignment, the more successful the team will be…

Our team found this exercise a great bridge to the wider question of corporate measurement – realising that if they can be aware of their own sustainable performance as a team, then it is easier to connect that with their ability to lead others.

And that’s what gets sustainable results…


© David Webster, Centre for Teams, 2015


  • Leading Teams, setting the stage for great performances by J. Richard Hackman ISBN: 978-1-57851-333-8
  • The Inner Game of Work by Timothy Gallwey ISBN-13: 978-1587990472
  • With thanks also to Charles Brook at the Performance Coach

Small Team Leadership: The Forgotten Art?

If the 2007 crash taught us anything, it was that small groups of people can have a huge impact on others. How small teams are led – be it the leadership team of a bank, an oil rig or a charity, or a project team in an ad agency – has a fundamental impact on its success and that of the enterprise as a whole. And yet somehow we don’t attend to this art – has it been forgotten?

The new territory

Work now is more complex than it was even 20 years ago – many are now members of several teams, ‘matrixed’, all with important briefs, making significant calls on team members time and capacity; and members of the same team are now likely not to be in the same location for at least some of their work. Ensuring success despite these shifts is now the game.

Who helps the team succeed?

While there are a 1000 programmes to develop leadership, many deal with self-management and many more with progressing the organisation’s longer term response to its environment – few focus on the way in which most of us experience our work –the small team. There are few conversations about how to be a great team member and fewer still on how those teams can effectively be led. Somehow the art of small team leadership has been forgotten.

Bringing back the Art: The Top Five for the Small Team Leader Artist

So here is a small contribution to the gap – an aide memoire for the leader seeking to get the best of his/her team – be it a senior leadership team or a project team, short term or long term, virtual or real.

  1. Where are we really going?

In these days of empowerment and employee engagement, it is easy to forget that what is most sought is clarity of direction – where are we going? Whether this is created by a comprehensive programme of team conversations or whether it is declared and understanding deepened through discussion matters much less than the end game – it must be clear, understood and accepted by team members.

  1. Job descriptions are irrelevant – what do you really need from each other to deliver?

Roles, particularly at a senior level, are always negotiated though we act as though they are not and avoid the negotiations that are required for expectations to be clear. Be honest, when was the last time you looked at your job description? Much more important are the conversations in the team: between the leader and the team and between team members. At a simple level, these need to cover, for each person, their objectives, their requests and their offers. And the rookies’ error is to leave it there – as a leader you need to model and encourage a continuous exchange of good quality feedback to ensure that mission critical relationships (where the currency is trust) are constantly improving.

  1. Understand and create the team’s destination and its journey. ‘Is it storming or performing?’

Most have come across the Tuckman model of small group development (which by the way is only one of many) but can you describe it to your team? Have you ever discussed this? I bet you have a plan for the delivery of Y project by X date (if you don’t, you probably need that) but do you have a Roadmap for the team’s journey? Do you have a clear picture, which is truly embraced by the team, of it working at its peak and a deeply felt understanding of what that journey will be like? Have you ever taken a step back at a meeting, which is going southwards, and discussed if this difficulty is normal at this time in its life, for the team? If you do, solutions are easier to find, tasks easier to complete and difference between people easier to use for effective decision-making.

  1. Engage with the world and help your colleagues do the same.

All teams desire to have influence on the context and a team only exists in context – what is in that context that will help the team or challenge the team? How clear are the needs of senior management? Your internal and external clients and customers? Your staff? These are all stakeholder groups and your ability to understand and manage relationships with them and learn from them is crucial. The best way to start doing this is to develop a stakeholder plan and have it be part of the regular conversations with the team.

  1. …and Slow Down to learn, Slow Down to speed up.

When was the last time your team meeting contained the question ‘what do we need to learn as a team that will help us succeed?’? This question appears to be more acceptable to ask individuals (in the annual appraisal probably, though less at other times…). We are always learning, all the time – we do stuff, reflecting on it, we make connections and decide how to respond. Mostly we don’t talk about it and it happens automatically – and most teams are caught in the doing stuff and making decisions part of the cycle. Without reflecting and making connections between things we fail to come to real shared views or genuinely common goals, and we fail to understand how we can be really effective in our work together – and the result? Poor decisions, half-baked activity, the poor use of team member capability and at its worst, sabotage team effort as frustration rises and comes out in peculiar places.

So there we have it – not the only top 5 but a pretty good start in championing the art of small team leadership…

To team or not to team, that is the question…

It doesn’t quite have the poetic moment of Hamlet’s original, but this is still a question that leaders and their teams see as critical. It is however not a very useful question.

To go through the effort and the pain…

In my work, team leaders pose the ‘do we need to be a ‘team’ or not?’ question quite a bit. It usually comes with a squinty expression and a slight sigh… as Hamlets continues, is it worth ‘taking arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them?’ leaders themselves continue….‘Is it really worth the pain?’.

Whilst the organisational structure, which they may have engineered themselves, may dictate that they are all part of the same ‘unit’, and the configuration has logic, still the question remains – do they actually need to do anything together? And is it worth the effort trying to get really good at it?

It would be a pretty impressive bit of organisational planning if you were expected to come together with your colleagues without any purpose at all, but some teams feel like that has happened to them. As a result the meetings are a morass of heart-sinkingly grim conversations, endlessly padded out with one to one reporting. Team members become spectators at the coliseum, as the boss gives the thumbs down to their colleagues.

A much better question

I think the question is not a very useful one. It is binary, demanding a team/no team response. A much better and practical question is ‘where does the team need to work together effectively?’ This focuses everyone on the specifics, and encourages them to work on those activities that will make the difference.

And some others

Other useful questions can refine your conversations and give guidance on where to focus your team improvement efforts.

I propose a series of prompts to assist the team in answering the question ‘where does the team need to work together effectively?’:

  • What are you trying to achieve together? What difference the team is trying to make to the world out there? If it is initiating or following through on huge change or re-orientation, then better get good at working together.
  • How complex is the team’s task in pursuing that outcome? The more complex, the more it will require team members to collaborate and co-ordinate their activity and align on a common purpose.
  • How do you wish the departments below you to work? If you wish them to collaborate, better be good at it doing it yourselves first – as Ghandi had it ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.

If, in responding to these questions, there is really nothing there, and no overt need to work together on any task, don’t bother. It may be that a need to get together persists. This is likely to be a need that is related more to relationships. The outcome sought could be about belonging, affiliation, learning, or networking. So focus on those things. Don’t confuse them with a need to progress a task together. Lighten the load and move on.