And what is the essence of a “supportive” climate that promotes esprit and gives birth to “high performing units”? It may be easier to feel or sense than to describe. Most experienced people can quickly take its measure. There is a pervasive sense of mission. There is a common agreement on the top priorities.There are clear standards. Competence is prized and appreciated.There is a willingness to share information. There is a sense of fair play. There is joy in teamwork. There are quick and convenient ways to attack problems and fix aberrations in the system. There is a sure sense of rationality and trust. Such climates are the product of strong, insightful leadership embedded in enduring values.
Working on high performance teams like this feels amazing. No achievement on your own ever matches it. No matter how hard the effort the work energizes you. You come clean with problems because it’s all about getting things done, not blaming. People come together.
You do work that you didn’t think you could ever do.
High Performance Teams Brings Out My Best
I have been blessed to work on a couple of these over the years. One was a team of 35 systems engineers I led who were tasked with doing 120 days worth of work in less than 90, all while the target kept moving because upper management didn’t know what they were doing. And they did it. Not just on-time. Early and on-budget.
Another was a high performance team of writers who were tasked to complete in some 45 days across Thanksgiving and Christmas a process documentation and design that the “international professionals” hadn’t been able to complete in an year. We did it. And won my boss $100 in a bet.
Another time I worked with two other guys to produce the web single sign-on for UBS Investment Bank, then Warburg Dillon Read and UBS Warburg. We produced a “tactical” solution which was only to be there for six months and then replaced with the “strategic” solution that the Real People were supposed to decided on. A decade later, our solution was still in place and even the boutique security development firm I worked for (the infamous “INFOSEC” that started it all) couldn’t achieve the same thing.
What The Difference Is
These teams had some commonalities. They had clear objectives with clear deadlines. Work was divided up so that every team member knew exactly what he or she was to do and what was expected to be successful. They had people who were in the right places on the team. The boss was nearby but not on top of you.
What they didn’t have was everything that you usually hear is necessary for a “quality” work environment. We had terrible workspaces. I was in a coat closet leading one of them. We had bad tools. Upper management was sometimes downright hostile, working against us. We got no recognition outside of the team.
Yet we all loved working then.
There’s something so magical about what we accomplish together. You have clarity: clarity of purpose, clarity of meaning, clarity of what exactly they want you to do. You do more. You are more. Personal achievements just don’t compare. They are times of being alive, of knowing who you are. We are social beings. High Performing Teams bring out our best, let us see who we really are.
We know what high performance teams (HPT) feel like, but what builds it?
The answer may surprise you.
That’s next time.