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High Performing Teams – Lean Six Sigma Depends on Them!

In this and the next installment of this column, I will share with you some of the secrets to leveraging teams effectively in your quest for excellence.

What are high-performing-teams (HPTs)? In almost any industry, having a large number of HPTs in an organization clearly sets the leaders apart from the followers. Below is a short list of the ideals and attributes that I find are important in developing a high performing team.

  1. There must be an overall common purpose, which all members of the teams understand and can commit to. Generally, high performing teams have a focus on improving something about the work that they do, such as customer service, profitability or better experiences for stakeholders.
  2. There need to be measurable outcomes for the team. People naturally want feedback on how they’re doing. Without a real measure of success, the team will suffer. Nobody wants to waste their time in team activities — if they’re going to spend time with their team, they need to get something done.
  3. Teams need to follow a documented process for conducting business improvement together. Often, this initially takes the form of a team charter that organizes the team. Here is a short list of what a good charter should have:
  • A documented objective,
  • A sponsor for the team,
  • Name of the team leader/facilitator,
  • Names of the team members, and
  • A focused scope.

A charter should also consider where the team should start, where they should end, and what their budget is for time and money.

  1. A written code of conduct that outlines the rules for the team. This usually includes an agenda, guidelines for conducting the meetings and other organizational tools. An option would be to start with a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order to outline the process of how your team is going to operate. If you’re unfamiliar with Robert’s Rule of Order, a simple Web search will supply you with dozens of results and suggestions for how to run your meetings efficiently.
  2. Be prepared to support teams as they develop. All high performing teams go through an evolutionary process, a development process when they get started. There are four phases in the developmental cycle of a high performing team:

The first phase, forming, involves bringing people together for the first time, which is usually pretty tentative. During this process, the teams are deciding how they’re going to behave, getting to know each other and agreeing about what their goals are. Roles also become clarified during this process, in particular, the role of the team leader. The purpose of the forming phase is to develop a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

The second phase, storming, can sometimes be a little messy. This process may meet with some resistance or “what are we doing here?” sorts of feelings. The team has to learn how to communicate with each other and work through the confusion of what they’re doing and how they’re going to get it done. It’s important for a team to acknowledge and accept each other’s differences, strengths, and weaknesses so that it can work towards clarity and unity. This is the phase of working through initial conflicts and oppositions.

The third phase, norming, is where the team starts to “gel” and become comfortable with one another. This is the part of the process where you should start to see some results. The team begins to share a lot of different ideas and feelings more openly and can start feeling more comfortable with their differences. This is important because it encourages the team to continue their cooperation.

The fourth and final phase, performing, is the payoff of the entire process. Finally, this is where the process is starting to become impressive, the team is energized, and they’re putting out results that can be measured. At this stage, team members really begin to have feelings of achievement and pride, both in themselves and in the team. Also, team members give a high value at that point to the ideas of others and are ready to identify and tackle even bigger challenges.

There you have it: a short version of what high performing teams are all about, how they evolve in that simple four-step process. In my next column, I will detail methods for leading high performing teams and why so many companies struggle with maintaining them.

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