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The Secrets of High Performing Teams: 9 Tips from Top Business Leaders

The Secrets of High Performing Teams: 9 Tips from Top Business Leaders

It’s basic human nature to form teams. After all, it didn’t take long for cavemen to realize the benefits of teamwork. It became fairly evident that a lone human out on the prairie was likely to be killed and eaten by predators, but a group of humans could organize so that what was originally a predator could become the prey of humans.

This is the synergistic effect of teamwork.[1] What is impossible to accomplish alone becomes possible with coordinated efforts of a team.

In its simplest form, a team can be defined as “a group of people coming together, all working towards a common goal”. But that’s just the basics. Using that definition, ANY group of people can be considered a team. Smart business people know how to assemble high performing teams that can give them an edge on the competition.

A poorly managed or low performing team can create many more problems than they solve. On the other hand, when managed correctly, high performing teams are the best single assets any business can have:

  • Promoting a sense of commitment – High performing teams promote a deep sense of commitment and loyalty to both the team’s goals and the organization.
  • Better results – High performing teams will usually produce better results than a standard team no matter what metric is used to evaluate them. Quality of result, making deadlines, schedules, etc.
  • Having clearly defined roles – Individual team members will have a clear understanding of both the team’s goals and their individual roles within that framework.
  • Promoting healthy competition – Having each team member understand exactly how their contribution contributes to the success of the team fosters a sense of obligation to coworkers that can enhance performance.
  • Complementary skills – A high performing team will consist of diverse members with varying expertise. This allows for constructive brainstorming sessions that build off of one another’s contributions.
  • Building trust – Members of a high performing team develop an interdependence on the other team members in order to complete the project. This interdependence is what builds trust within the group.

As a manager, your success or failure can be determined by your ability to create and manage a high performing team. After all, in business, we are all judged by the results that we bring to the company.

If you can master the ability to form and maintain high performing teams, you become a very valuable asset to your company. Use these 9 tips from top business leaders to develop a high performing team:

1. Have a Clear and Concise Goals

This needs to start at the top. Upper management needs to set and clearly communicate the goals and values of the organization. This should be accomplished through the development of vision and mission statements so that the overarching goals of the organization are concrete and clear to everyone.

Using the mission statement as a framework, the department heads can then set clear goals for the teams within their divisions. In turn, managers, using the framework passed down from the department heads can set goals for their individual teams.

By using this approach, everyone is aware of their individual goals, their team goals and how those goals contribute to achieving the overall goals set forth in the mission statement.

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2. Make It Exclusive

Successful business leaders know that people will actually work harder and be happier if what they are working on is seen as exclusive or special. Everyone likes to be apart of an elite group.

A good manager can create an air of exclusivity by using rigorous hiring standards as well as high performance standards. That, coupled with a compensation package that is unique to the group, (this can be higher pay, performance bonuses, extra vacation, flex-time, telecommuting etc.).

All of these things combine to create an exclusive atmosphere that encourages people to strive to gain entrance and maintain their position within the team.

3. Evaluate Skill Sets

This is an ongoing process. You should have a good idea of what skills are needed before you even form a team. Only when you are clear on the skill sets needed for the project should you then begin to assemble your team.

Once you have recruited the members of the team, don’t forget to continually monitor and evaluate their performance to ensure the standards and goals are being met.

4. Pull, Don’t Push

As a team leader, you need to lead by example. Anyone can bark orders and make demands of employees, but if you are willing to lead the way, it shows an understanding of the demands of the project as well as legitimizing your role as leader.

This rule should also be followed when an individual team member isn’t living up to expectations. Your first order of business should be to determine why they aren’t performing up to the standard.

Is it an issue of not having the right resources to do the job? A communication problem within the group, or a personal issue that is causing a distraction?

Whatever the case, a good team leader will take the time to understand the problem and then help facilitate a solution. Help your team tease out solutions instead of just demanding results.

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5. Promote Collaborative Decision Making

Abiding by this one rule upfront can save you serious headaches down the road.

Start by having regular team meetings to discuss both the overall progress of the team as well as the progress of the individual team members. When done right, these meetings will highlight potential problem areas that are likely to arise. Remember, that every individual’s actions within the group can affect every other person’s performance so identifying potential conflicts early is the goal.

By utilizing a collaborative decision making process, individuals within the group are more likely to be satisfied and take ownership of the solution than if the decision is imposed on them. This also contributes to the overall cohesiveness of the team.

Now, with that being said, there will always be occasions that it’s just not possible or practicable to make a collaborative decision. In those cases, the team leader must make the decision and move on.

6. Promote an “Open” Atmosphere

Nothing inhibits a team progress more than a “closed” environment. Every organization needs rules and guidelines in order to function, but they shouldn’t be so onerous as to stifle creativity.

Members of your high performing team should feel safe in expressing themselves without criticism. This is especially true in meetings and brainstorming sessions. These are the times when wild ideas that are “outside the box” should be encouraged. This is how you can encourage innovation.

This article explains more about how an open atmosphere encourages creativity: If You Want an Invincible Team, Make Them Feel Safe

7. Recognize High Performers

In any team or group situation, productivity can be measured and a norm or average productivity level can be determined.

By definition, half of the team will under-perform the average and half the team will outperform the average. When the highest 10%,20% or 30% are being publicly recognized, it encourages the rest to to achieve more.

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It’s also a great way to boost the team’s morale. And it’s been shown that high employee moral is positively correlated with productivity.

Recognition is a great way to reinforce cohesiveness within the group.

8. Avoid the “Zero-Sum Game” Trap

A zero-sum game is one which, in order for someone to win, someone else has to lose. This is exactly the opposite of what you are looking for in a high performing team.

In a zero-sum game, individual successes are celebrated over the success of the group. This can quickly degenerate into group members hoarding resources, limiting communication and even sabotaging other team members.

Obviously, team cohesiveness falls apart at this point as does the chances of producing a good outcome for the group. Avoid this potentially disastrous dynamic by focusing on cooperation instead of competition, team successes instead of individual success and always encourage open communication.

9. Have Trusted Leadership

High performing teams must have trust in their leadership. This is a requirement, not an option if you are serious about creating a exceptional team. Without trust, a leader is hard pressed to inspire others to follow.

Building and maintaining a team’s trust means that individuals within the team will follow direction willingly, without coercion and are much more likely to produce a good result. They are also much more likely to stretch their boundaries and go above and beyond the call of duty to achieve better results.

When you are trying to build trust within a group, there are 3 important things to keep in mind:

First, people trust people that they like. Start by building a positive relationship with individuals on the team.

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Secondly, we trust people with knowledge or expertise. This is especially true if that knowledge is used to help us solve problems. So use your expertise to help those within your team.

Finally, be someone your team members can count on. Stay true to your word, when you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t make promises you can’t keep and always be willing to go to bat for your team members.

Final Thoughts

As we have discussed above, there are many facets to developing and maintaining a high performing team. And while the benefits of having such a team are obvious, being able to maintain that performance level over that long haul is much more difficult.

As with any human endeavor, the changes that occur over time that will inevitably erode performance. Things like complacency, job dis-satisfaction, employee turnover and even changes in upper management can all affect group dynamics and team performance.

Being aware of these issues so that you can deal with them early on is key to maintaining your team’s performance. It’s always better to anticipate and prepare for problems rather than react to them after they have occurred.

There is a huge difference being involved with a high performance team versus an average or low performing team. Not only in the quality of work produced, but also in the job satisfaction of the team members.

Most of us have been involved in a dysfunctional team at least once in our careers, with a lot of us it’s been several times. The sabotage, back stabbing and toxicity involved in these groups just perpetuates the very problems they were meant to solve.

If you suspect a team has devolved to this point, the best thing to do is to dissolve it and start anew. Even with high performing teams, the ability to maintain the same level of quality will diminish over time.

Technology changes as does the competition, so don’t be afraid to readjust, reconfigure or even dissolve formally successful teams to deal with these changes.

And while business, technology and staff all change over time, human nature does not. As long as there are human endeavors requiring teamwork, these 9 secrets of high performing team will provide you the best chance at success.

More Articles About Team Management

Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via unsplash.com

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David Carpenter

Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

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Published on November 2, 2020

How to Write a Mission Statement That Empowers Your Employees

How to Write a Mission Statement That Empowers Your Employees

A mission statement is the battle cry of an organization. It is a sentence or set of sentences that state the firm’s organizing idea—its reason for being. With a mission statement, the founders, the management, and the employees declare, “this is why we are in business”, and “this is why we fight”.

The mission statement infuses an organization with purpose and clarity and empowers employees to attack the problems and opportunities necessary to achieve the firm’s goals.

What is the purpose of your business? What is the battle cry that you want to send your employees out to battle with, empowering them with a clear purpose? Why are you here and why should your employees care?

A mission statement is not merely a bland statement of what the business does. It is an attempt by the founders to achieve buy-in from the employees and state to the world why they exist in ways that enthuse the people within the firm, earn the admiration of potential employees, and burnish the business’ brand.

In asking these questions, another question then arises: how does the typical business owner craft a mission statement that will encapsulate what the business is about and empower employees?

In this article, we will look at various, exemplary mission statements to fire up your imaginations and get you thinking and then, breakdown the tasks that must be accomplished to craft an impactful mission statement that will empower employees.

Whether you are a startup founder or the owner of an old business, you need to consider the importance of clarifying your mission and the huge impact that would have on achieving buy-in from your employees so they feel tied to the destiny of the company and are empowered to fight for its goals.

Without further ado, let’s look at mission statements in more detail!

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Examples of Exemplary Mission Statements

  • Alphabet: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • IKEA: “Offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
  • Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
  • Facebook: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
  • Verizon: “We deliver the promise of the digital world to our customers. We make their innovative lifestyles possible. We do it all through the most reliable network and the latest technology.”
  • Southwest Airlines: “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”
  • Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

The mission statements above are the organizing ideas of some of the greatest companies in the world and as such, they influence the decision-making, behavior, and strategic direction of the company.

Every decision an employee makes is grounded in the principles laid bare in the mission statement. Through achieving clarity in the mission statement, the employees are freed to work without confusion.

Read on to learn how to write an effective mission statement,

1. Ask the Four Questions

According to Patrick Hull, four important questions go into the writing of a mission statement:[1]

  1. What is the purpose of the company?
  2. How do we do it?
  3. Whom do we do it for?
  4. What value are we bringing?

Research by Professor Chris Bart of McMaster University dovetails with this and indicates that a mission statement has to include three essential components: the target audience, the product or service offered, and the distinction or competitive advantage the company has over rivals.[2]

Bart’s research also suggests that only about 10% of mission statements say something meaningful. It is essential to be clear on the three keys otherwise your mission statement is hot air.

2. State How the Business Empowers Its Employees

Without employee buy-in, it is very difficult to achieve the goals of the business. It is for this reason that the companies people most want to work for are some of the most successful businesses in the world.[3]

Creating the right corporate culture—a culture that rewards employees, inspires them, and defines clearly why they are there, to begin with—is important. And it begins with the mission statement. It is important to not simply state why your business is good for its employees but also say how, and then work to achieve that.

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This encompasses questions of diversity, creative freedom, continuing education, fairness, and empowerment. Every business will claim that it is good for its employees, so you need to stand out from the crowd because you are competing in the market for employees.

You may feel that you have to say the obvious, bookmark ideas, and remind people of values, even if shared across the business community. But you have to find a differentiator. As you may have noticed from the above examples, many mission statements are customer-facing and rather ignore the employees. I suggest bucking the trend.

A good example of this is American Express’ mission statement, which reads:

“We have a mission to be the world’s most respected service brand. To do this, we have established a culture that supports our team members, so they can provide exceptional service to our customers.”

3. Be Candid

We have all read those mind-numbingly boring examples of corporate-ease—those pieces of corporate literature that seem to be nothing but a smorgasbord of buzzwords. Though jargon has its places in providing a shared language to transmit ideas, the mission statement is the one place that demands a more colloquial approach.

Richard Branson, in discussing how to craft a mission statement, insists that it should be clear and contain no unnecessary jargon.[4] He discussed Yahoo’s mission statement with this idea in mind and suggested that though it was interesting, it was too dense to be understood by most people and therefore, was meaningless and useless.

A good example of clarity, and simplicity is Alphabet’s (the parent company of Google) mission statement: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Research shows that there is a direct link between future shareholder returns and the candor of corporate language.[5] The more candid a business’ language, the more trust it earns from shareholders, and the greater future performance.

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The logic can be extended to the relationship between employees and owners: establish trust with candor and thereby earn the devotion of your employees and excess effort. This means stripping away jargon to be as clear and candid as possible about what you are offering your employees. You can only earn the trust and sacrifice of your employees with candor.

4. Inspire

Tesla’s mission statement is a good example of this, not simply because of what it says but what it omits. The company commits to clean energy and advancing technologies, such as the batteries it is famous for as well as its electric vehicles.

An employee at Tesla is charged with the mission of fighting the good fight for sustainable energy. Interestingly, Tesla is a car manufacturer. But the mission statement says nothing about cars—anyone can make cars. Tesla zeroes in on something bigger than cars, and without saying so, links Tesla to broader struggles against climate change.

Whether you like Tesla or not, Tesla indeed has a fervent base of admirers and this brand strength starts with things like the mission statement.

5. Balance Realism With Optimism

One criticism of mission statements is that they often are too optimistic and unrealistic. Business is about working for ideals through reality.

Take Southwestern’s mission statement, which offers realism in the first part: “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service”—and balances it out with idealism—”delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit”—to create a powerful mission statement.

Realism alone is dull and uninspiring, and idealism and optimism on its own can seem like a reach. But together, they make a mission statement powerful. In thinking about how you will empower your employees, balance realism and optimism.

6. Think Strategically

As the organizing idea of the business, a mission statement should endure. Think long-term—think strategically. Every decision and every action taken by and within the company flows from the mission statement. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that you frame a mission statement within the context of the long-term so that it does not constrain or narrow the scope of the business.

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7. Seek Employee Input

A lot of this discussion has been top-down. But the most important thing you can do as an employer is to ask your employees for. This will not only tell you what they want to achieve within the company and what they want from the company, but it will also help establish a corporate culture that empowers employees by constantly communicating with them and seeking their buy-in in developing the business.

This will help them stay focused even when they’re working from home. It makes little sense to have a top-down approach in establishing the corporate culture and then wondering why employees do not feel empowered.

Toyota is perhaps the best example in the world of the benefits of creating a corporate culture that embraces employee input. Indeed, the “Toyota Way” may be the most integrated corporate culture in the world and seeks employee input down to the lowliest shop floor employee.

Seeking employee input cannot be overly emphasized.

Final Words

We have seen examples of great mission statements of some of the world’s leading businesses. Along the way, we have established the importance of asking the “four questions”, stating how the business empowers its employees, being candid, inspiring, balancing realism with optimism, thinking strategically, and seeking employee input.

It is important to see the mission statement as the organizing idea of the company and not just something to chuck into a business plan. From the mission statement, you establish the corporate culture of the company and the conditions that will allow your employees to be and feel empowered.

It is vital to take the mission statement both seriously and enthusiastically. The benefits are a devoted and enthusiastic workforce as well as a stronger brand and a corporate culture that will fuel future returns.

More About Writing a Mission Statement

Featured photo credit: Bram Naus via unsplash.com

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