High-performing teams will nearly always beat their competition.

On my last three consulting jobs I was disappointed to find a glaring lack of teamwork. At one business it was between the wholesale side of the business and the showroom. At another, there were four salespeople in the showroom and they all seemed to work and act independently, which translates into no teamwork. And at the third business, I was distressed to find a lack of teamwork between top management of the wholesaler and the showroom folks. I hope that everyone would agree that great teamwork between employees is paramount to success.

These three situations brought to my mind a number of questions, such as:

  • How do you develop a high-performing team?
  • Why is teamwork more important than it used to be?
  • What evidence is there that teams can perform better than individuals?
  • What attitudes and skills are necessary for an effective team member?
  • Can anyone learn to be an effective team member?
  • What happens when conflict occurs? (It will!)
  • Can a team make effective decisions?
  • Can a team solve a problem better than any one individual?
  • What kind of training does it take to develop a great team?
  • What kind of leadership does a team need?

As you can see, the questions are numerous. What I will attempt to do is answer some of these questions and to spell out a number of ideas that you might use to help build a terrific team.

The absolute fact is that companies that have informed, motivated, skilled, trained, experienced and committed people will outperform companies that still operate in the traditional way. Simply put, smart systems, empowered workers and incredible teamwork are needed by all organizations, regardless of the type of business you are.

Here are five reasons why high-performing teams will almost always beat their competition:

1. High-performing teams can react quickly to change. Nothing is stable and predictable anymore, so you need to be able to respond quickly to change - whether it’s driven by customers, vendors, competition or anything else.

2. High-performing teams can deliver higher quality and better customer service. For a very long time, American industry inspected for quality instead of concentrating on building it into products and services. Companies are finding that teams of multi-skilled workers who are taught to build in quality will eliminate mistakes and deliver better quality and service to customers. The ultimate goal!

3. High-performing teams can constantly improve everything. The Japanese call it “Kaizen”: the constant improvement of everything by everyone. The attitude is one of “If it’s not perfect, improve it.” In other words, do something everyday to make something better. Companies that institute constant improvement and reward it reap benefits in terms of customer satisfaction, worker satisfaction, money saved, costs lowered, etc.

4. High-performing teams improve motivation, job satisfaction and ultimately production.

5. High-performing teams can constantly learn, self-correct and respond to opportunities. Only organizations that train and retrain their people will succeed. In this fast-changing world, skills become obsolete very quickly, so constant updating of product knowledge and technical knowledge is critical. The balancing act that human resource managers and showroom managers must learn is how to meet the many needs of the workers while still meeting the needs of the company.

Today's workers want:
  • More responsibility
  • More authority
  • More skills training (products, selling, computers, etc.)
  • More decision-making power
  • More information
  • More influence
  • More flexibility
  • More rewards (both intrinsic - the work itself, and extrinsic - recognition, praise, money based on performance).

  • And, organizations want and need:
  • Workers more responsible for quality and cost savings
  • Continuous improvement - everyone improving everything, everyday
  • More flexible, multi-skilled workers
  • More empowered workers able to serve customers
  • Greater productivity (sales and margins)
  • Everyone working smarter
  • Constant change and innovation
  • Proactive, not reactive, culture
  • Everyone acting like an owner (motivated, committed and empowered)

  • Successful teams have:
  • A shared goal/mission that everyone knows and agrees on and is committed to accomplishing

  • An environment of trust and openness
  • Open and honest communication
  • A sense of belonging
  • Diversity valued as an asset
  • Creativity and risk-taking are encouraged
  • Ability to self-correct
  • Members who are interdependent
  • Consensus decision making
  • Participatory leadership

    Every team needs a great leader. The leader’s role is to be a facilitator. Here is a list of attributes of a good team leader:

  • Listening to team members
  • Creating a climate of trust and openness
  • Eliminating fear
  • Valuing diversity
  • Role modeling (“walking the talk” or practicing what they preach)
  • Communicating the goal and mission of the organization
  • Delegating, coaching, counseling and teaching
  • Encouraging creativity, risk-taking and constant improvement of everything by everyone
  • Sharing information
  • Empowering people (allowing people to do their job and serve the customer better, faster and with quality)
  • Helping the team become more and more self-directed (less dependent on the leader)
  • Keeping the team on track
  • Leading effective meetings
  • Handling personality conflicts
  • Developing the team by understanding group dynamics
  • Influencing without authority
    Now how’s that for a challenging job description? I believe these bullets apply to the president/CEO and all the way down to the branch managers and showroom managers.

  • Importance Of Team Meetings

    Team meetings enable teams to: solve problems, schedule work, share new ideas and suggestions, plan for the future and discuss matters relevant to everyone.

    Team meetings are also the prime way that members experience being a team. These meetings enable team members to get to know each other better, share variable information, make decisions together and discuss things the team is good at and what it needs to change in order to be more productive, more fun and personally satisfying to the members.

    Teams need to meet on a regular basis. At my business we met every week for one hour. Same day, same start and finish time.

    Team meetings are also a chance to practice one’s listening skills (an important part of selling), feedback and disclosure skills, etc.

    More About Meetings

    We are social animals and like to get together in teams to feel the community of other people. We need meetings to further enhance our sense of belonging and identification with the team.

    Meetings provide an opportunity for team members to get to know each other.  The meetings can and should be fun.  They give team members the chance to support each others’ ideas, engage in constructive conflict by disagreeing and seeking a better resolution, and ultimately, they can make decisions together.

    Meetings are the time to quickly share information that everyone needs to know and get everyone involved, committed and responsible for things that need to get done.

    Keep the meetings small in number (10 or fewer) and have a great meeting facilitator.

    Well, I could go on and on - but I have a limit on my column size. I played several team sports in high school and college. I learned early on the importance of great teamwork. I would encourage you to visit your favorite bookstore or Web site and look up other information on teamwork and how you can improve it at your place of business. I know the three consulting clients I mentioned in the beginning of this article are all working hard to improve their teamwork. How about you?