Leadership Caffeine™: 6 Ideas to Improve Team Performance Today

A Cup of Leadership CaffeineThe world of work has increasingly become the world of teams and group activities, and to quote Richard Hackman, author of, Leading Teams-Setting the Stage for Great Performance,

“I have no question that when you have a team, the possibility exists that it will generate magic, producing something extraordinary… But don’t count on it.”

If your organization is like most, you’re leaving money on the table in terms of team productivity and performance. Social and interpersonal factors, motivation issues, lack of group cohesion and the general up-front churn that teams display as they form, are just a few of the areas where you can pick up immediate productivity improvements with a little bit of smart leadership.

As an aside, many senior project managers and executive sponsors provide this type of leadership for major project initiatives.  The focus in this post is on the gross majority of group, team or committee activities that fly below the radar of formal project management leadership and executive sponsorship. These are often manager-led initiatives or cross-functional groups coming together to tackle a problem.

6 Ideas to Improve Team Performance Today:

1. Control Your Urge to Put a Team On It-use groups carefully and sparingly and avoid the reflex action to set up a work group, committee or project team for every issue that comes your way. Carefully assess whether a group effort truly stands the best chance of success.  There are many situations where the right individual can work with stakeholders and across functions and accomplish the goals or solve the problem more efficiently and effectively than a team.

2. If You Must Set Up a Team…Please Ensure that Goals Are Clear and Compelling: unclear goals promote “churn and flail,” and mundane tasks drive lackadaisical performance.  As the responsible organizational leader (not necessarily the work team leader), you must ensure that the goal of the initiative is crystal clear and linked to a key business imperative.  Vague goals and unclear context are productivity and morale killers.

3. Starting Today, Rethink the Approach to Choosing Team Leaders.  Instead of seniority or rank, work-team leadership must be based on a single criterion: “Who is the person best suited to help us succeed with the task at hand?”  Depending upon the nature of the task, an individual with good facilitation skills, or a person that works well across functions might be better suited than a functional manager or the most senior person on the group.

4. Define the Group’s Values Up-Front.  Don’t make a career out of this, but definitely don’t skip describing and memorializing the required group behaviors for discussion, debate, attendance, participation and work-completion.

5. Use Simple Assignments to Save Time.  Every meeting must have a note-taker (scribe), a timekeeper and a traffic cop.  The traffic cop enforces the rules in play (e.g. brainstorming) and helps the team stay on topic and work towards an outcome.

6. Assign a Coach. If the group is expected to work together for more than a few days, it is helpful to ask for an objective 3rd party set of eyes to assess team processes and interpersonal dynamics.  You don’t need to spend money to bring in an outside resource with a fancy certification.  One organization used representatives from HR (a great way to help get this group engaged with the business of business) and another identified and specified a coaching role and rotated the responsibility between individuals.  The coach is not part of the working team, but rather an occasional and objective observer that reports back to the designated team leader on group dynamics and group processes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

We are well served to identify continuous improvement opportunities for our collaborative endeavors.  I’ve watched great process companies with legions of people wearing colored belts forget about some of the simple suggestions above that can save money and time, spur performance and add to task enjoyment and morale.  Today is a great day to help your teams and groups boost their performance!

By | 2016-10-22T17:11:50+00:00 July 19th, 2010|Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|2 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Andrew Meyer July 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm - Reply


    great and practical information. If I could add one item:

    7. When will the team end.

    Maybe it will end based on a date, it may end based on a goal being achieved or it may end based on some other factor (board meeting, other project kicking off etc.) My point is simply that team members and other people effected by their being on the team should know when its going to complete.

    • Art Petty July 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      Andrew, agreed. Thanks! -Art

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