Why high performing teams need more than talent

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Talent acquisition. Talent pools. Australia’s Got Talent…

Organisations (and TV networks, apparently) spend a lot of time, effort and money attracting and retaining talented people. And rightly so. Ineptitude might provide the odd funny meme, but it won’t get us far. 

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Talent, though, is the first step in creating a high performing team. As leadership coach, Jon Osborne reminds us, people aren’t building blocks to be stacked up neatly into a well-adjusted, working wall. 

“Many people assume that if they bring high performing individuals together…then they will naturally have a high performing team,” Jon says. “But that’s quite a mechanistic model…and of course, it doesn’t work like that with people.”

So, how does it work? Can you actually hone a high performing team? And, as a new leader, what’s your role in all of this?

In our 5th and final  New Leader podcast (check out the whole series here), we delve into all the detail you need to take your talented team from working to wow. 

Working groups vs working teams

Want a high performing team? Well, obvs. Then you need a working team, not simply a working group.

Jon explains why:

“When we bring individuals together and don’t think about the team, we have a working group,” he says. “And what that working group produces is the sum of its parts. That may be good enough, but it doesn’t in any way address the potential of the team.

“A team is defined – and particularly a high performing team is defined – as a group of people who produce more value than the sum of their parts.

It’s why we have organisations in the first place, right? Organisations create value by bringing people together – and teams are at the heart of that. 

Not sure if you’ve got a group or a team? Here are the red flags questions to ask yourself:

🚩 Would your team actually produce more apart than together?

🚩 Do people seem more energised on their own than with their team?

🚩 Are employees chasing the same goal?

Do you have a high performing team?

Let’s assume you’ve got a working team (it’s ok if you don’t!)

How do you ensure you’re getting the most from your team? What elevates a high performing team from a team that’s just kind of…there. 

Jon says it comes down to these old chestnuts:

👁 Vision

🎯 Mission

💯 Values

Vision

An effective team is one that shares a vision. People may not have exactly the same picture of what the future looks like – but, the road ahead is clear, coherent and consistent across the team.

They are aligned. 

Mission

Leadership means giving your team a destination to strive for. The team has agreed on it, they care about where they’re going and everyone’s got a clear role to play. 

They have direction.

Values

Jon describes values as “a description of the standards a team commits to in the way they show up with one another.”

As a leader, you need to clearly define those values: what do they look like in the grittiness of real life and how do they translate into everyday behaviours?

They have standards.

High performing teams: the ultimate WIP

Honestly? It’d be easier to take a ‘set and forget’ attitude here. But nothing in life is set in stone, least of all your team’s performance. 

So, if strategic plans aren’t static, what are we dealing with?

It’s called teaming. 

“Teaming is a process, an ongoing process of coordinating and working together,” explains Jon. 

That means you’re constantly monitoring what’s working, what’s not and finding ways to do things better. 

Welcome to the (management) jungle! 

A team that says no

We’ve all found ourselves in sticky situations, simply because saying no is, well, HARD.

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It’s not even about being people pleasers, it just doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But, says Jon, a team that can say no is an incredible opportunity to get a real reading of your employees’ challenges, frustrations and limitations. 

“The challenge is learning to listen and observe responsibility,” he points out. “If all anyone says is yes, then the word becomes meaningless. The more senior you become, the less detail you’re across, so [teams that can] reveal those blind spots [gives leaders] an enormous gift.”

Creating a culture where ‘no’ is a part of the narrative doesn’t translate to a toxic workplace. It actually puts everyone on the same page, allows for realistic expectations and brings teams closer together.

Don’t do it alone

We’ve covered this before, but it’s worth recapping. Because, as Jon reminds us, becoming a leader doesn’t make us the font of all knowledge.

“So many people fall into the trap of thinking that being a leader is having all the answers or knowing what to do,” he says. “But you can’t play this game alone, so get the support you need.”

Get comfortable with not knowing everything. You’ll sow the seeds for a team that values learning, asking questions and being humble.

Progress over perfection

Leadership (and especially new leadership) is a journey. It’s constant, evolving and there are bumps in the road. 

And it’s very different to perfection

Progress is about living a life of learning and staying open to new ideas and ways of working. And, according to Jon, always with the beginner mindset.

“Part of moving off the perfection trap is to go through the difficult place of ‘not only do I not know, but I don’t know what I don’t know’. That’s the crisis that’s revealed in moving away from perfection.

“But, it’s also the entry point to actual learning, which is a journey of ‘I don’t know’. Not knowing where to go, not knowing where to start. That’s why finding someone who can help is so powerful.”

Some days, you might feel like you’re crawling – but you’re still progressing.

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High performing teams don’t just happen

Even the most talented people need guidance, support and direction

And no matter where you are on your leadership journey, your role is always to cultivate, monitor and fine tune your team. Only then can they be expected to perform at their best – and as a unified, working team (not a group of individuals who happen to turn up at the same place each day)

Want more leadership insights? Pop your headphones on and get into our New Leader podcast series here!

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