What is (team) performance?
Individually, performance is the product of an individual’s ability and motivation to complete a task and or achieve an objective. When paired with the right rewards and ample resources, the opportunity for high performance becomes available.
For teams, performance is the measure of how effective the collective group is at achieving their objectives. This is assessed on the dimensions of the quality of output, the group’s collaborative ability, and individual development. An effective team is one that is high on all three dimensions, allowing them to achieve great performance.
The importance and value of effective teams has been studied for over 30 years. The pioneer of this field of study, J. Richard Hackman, proposed the initial frameworks around what is an effective team and how to assess their performance. As work have become increasingly collaborative and as a result, companies, such as Google, have spent exorbitant amounts of money on understanding what produces the ultimate team.
Team performance on the impact of business
The importance of team performance can be best summed up by the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” This is reflected in many examples from daily life; in sports, we see this played out in the Jordan era Chicago Bulls. As recounted in coach Phil Jackson’s autobiography, Eleven Rings, the Bulls would not have reached their peak, championship winning performance if they hadn’t figured how to harness their collective power as a team. Their transformative 1990-1991 season laid the groundwork for the team to win three championships in a row.
In organizations, we see the impact of team performance in places like the Cleveland Clinic, a premier medical facility featuring some of the top doctors in the United States. The organization’s collaborative team approach is know for improving the quality of care for patients while managing costs. The model gained significant notoriety in its ability to deliver results that it has been studied by medical organizations from around the world.
Arguably, the power of an effective team is what delivers championships, like the Bulls, or ground-breaking products, such as the iPhone.
Importance of assessing team performance
Assessing a team regularly is imperative to ensure the team can be successful, to prevent issues turning into major risks, and to manage company culture.
By checking in with a team that is behind on an output, leaders can have an open dialogue on what resources or support are needed to provide an environment that fosters success. Issues that arise can be dealt with and any roadblocks can be removed.
Assessing a team on a regular basis serves as preventative maintenance for issues. Having team performance assessed annually is not sufficient in addressing and preventing problems; by the time performance reviews come up, team members may have left, and projects may have already slipped. Regular assessments mean smaller conversations about how to proactively address issues rather than one in depth discussion on all the things that fell apart.
Finally, assessing the team performance will also provide insight on how company culture is unfolding. Are teams being driven by domineering personalities that create a toxic work environment? Are there team members who are being left out of key discussions? Being able to understand what the team dynamic is can allow for changes to be made to align with the organization’s desired culture.
How to assess team performance
In order to assess how effective a team is, managers should measure the dimensions that contribute to an effective team, namely the output, collaborative ability, and individual development. Assessment can be as simple as ranking each dimension on a scale of 1 to 5. Assessing teams regularly will allow for preventative maintenance by allowing managers to ensure that issues are addressed before they become risks.
- Output – first thing to validate is whether the team was able to achieve the objective. There is no point in having a fun team if they are not productive or able to achieve their goals. Assess the output of the team to see if it meets the quality and expected delivery that the company or client expects.
- Collaborative ability – a key factor to assess in team performance is whether the team works well together. A team that can deliver an output may not necessarily be doing so in a way that is sustainable. For example, having a team leader drive results through brute force and abuse does not encourage a collaborative work environment or contribute to a positive culture.
- Individual development – assessing team members individually is important as it ensures that members are getting value out of their experience. Are they learning new abilities or improving their knowledge? Individual assessments will also allow to check-in with team members to validate their engagement and contributions to a team.
The Professional Leadership Institute provides training on team assessment training and offers a free preview.
Facilitating effective teams
30 years of research in team effectiveness has concluded that the answer to effective teams is to provide the conditions in which a team can thrive. Having the conditions to facilitate effective high performing teams is more important than individual performers. Four key factors create the conditions for effective teams: compelling direction, strong structure, supportive context, and shared mindset.
Leaders and managers should focus on supporting their teams by providing these conditions. This becomes even more true as teams are faced with constantly changing team members – it is impossible to build a team around a single higher performer when it is probably that they may leave. By focusing on mastering how to facilitate the right conditions, companies can become more resilient to a workforce that is fickle and every changing.
- Effective teams are important in reaching higher levels of performance that may not be reached by individual and siloed efforts
- An effective team that achieves the right output, is collaborative, and can grow individuals can lead to high team performance, producing significant value for the team members and the organization
- Managers should assess teams to monitor progress, provide support for achieving goals, and to gain insight on how company culture is unfolding