Secrets to High Performing Teams

Secrets to High Performing Teams

“It’s not particularly good news” the Sr. Leader said, “but we have to acknowledge it, own it, and create a plan on what to do about it.”

This statement was in response to my culture audit presentation for a global organization. This culture had several key challenge areas and lots of bright spots, too. But the leadership team acknowledged them and that’s a good sign for the future of the culture and the company.

It’s not always easy for leaders to learn about challenges within the culture, but it’s always better to be aware than unaware. It takes a respectable amount of courage to invite someone like me in to do open heart surgery do (metaphorically speaking) on a team. Some of the most valuable feedback you’ll ever get is constructive criticism from those who know you, have studied you, and have your best interests at heart.

We know from experience that it’s not always comfortable to discover your blind spots, weaknesses, or just the unknowns in our world. But, we’re better off knowing about them, than not knowing. 

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” 

— Carl Jung

Speaking from experience, it’s the most confident leaders who are willing to examine what’s working and what’s not on their team, and do something about it. After all, you can’t manage what you aren’t aware of. Bettering a culture requires leaders to be willing to discover and look some hard truths in the eye. 

Self-awareness, I have found, is the critical and often missing component to organizational health and in what makes a good leader great. And, it’s tethered to the all-mighty trust metric within the culture.

Trust is the linchpin that allows for a team’s ability to be collaborative, productive, creative, innovative, and drive for exceptional results.

Without trust in place, teams behave the following ways:

  • They conceal their weakness and mistakes
  • They don’t offer help to people outside their area or department
  • They jump to conclusions with seeking clarity or understanding
  • They fail to recognize each others’ skills, expertise, experience and perspectives
  • They gossip, back channel and hold grudges

Fostering trust is ultimately about being vulnerable through the creation of psychological safety. Team members who trust one another can be comfortable being open, even vulnerable, to others around their failures, weaknesses, even fears.

Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple and practical idea that people who aren’t afraid to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in unproductive behavior. When this is in place it makes realizing results far more likely. Just as self-awareness is the threshold to gaining trust, trust is the linchpin to all other positive cultural attributes including outcomes.

Tethering self-awareness and trust.

When team members feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to raise issues, confront reality, speak the truth, hold others accountable, think creatively, and are more driven to results. These teams perform better because of higher levels of self-awareness which breeds deeper trust in teams.

If being self-aware means both understanding your internal motivations and desires, and how your actions and attitudes affect others, then organizations need this, too.   

Self-aware teams are: More efficient, effectively, innovative and more rewarding to be part of. Few teams are naturally self-aware. It requires a few critical things be in place and nurtured.

Three Pillars for Organizational Self Awareness:

  1. Leaders who model the way. All organizations will embody and mimic the style of the leader. The leader must show the way through consistent behavior and a willingness to be open, honest, transparent and courageous in the face of human imperfection—their own and others.
  2.  Psychology safety. Teams that trust one another are able to lean into their individual and team strengths, while showing their weaknesses and asking for help, when needed.
  3. Values in action. By defining your values (or principles) and putting them into action, teams have an ongoing process to support consistent and aligned team behavior. This “operating system” is built on core values that define standards of behavior and excellence throughout the organization.

Here’s the point. Self-aware people and teams take the risk of vulnerability because they have the confidence to stand on their deeply held and conscious beliefs. They understand how their behavior affects others and therefore, treat others with respect in their communication. This is contagious, if everyone is trained on it. If you want a high performing culture (and, who doesn’t), you need a self-aware team.

It starts with leaders’ willingness to look closely at what’s working and what’s not within their culture, and the courage to make changes that improve the lives and work of everyone on the team.

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