Building genuinely effective teams
Recently I came across the career profile of the Head of HR at a U.K. bank. Among this person's expertise was listed "enabling high-performance teams."
Can someone please explain to me what this actually means? I honestly have no idea. I mean, where does one begin? As opposed to low-performance teams? Or do low-performance teams not need enabling? Then I began to think what qualities and traits would be needed to put together genuinely effective teams, as opposed to "enabling" them. The results of my thinking are summarized here as a straight forward 5-point guide.
First, plain speaking. Ban all consultant-speak. No more nonsense airy-fairy expressions, you all know the type I mean. No team will be effective if they are subject to pretentious pseudo psycho babble of the kind beloved of HR departments, management consultants and marketing types. Speak in plain, clear language to your team and demand that they speak in the same way back to you. Diversity in a team is good, but not when it means some of them talking gibberish.
Second, put together a set of people whose personal style makes them obvious team players. In other words, they say what they really mean, and they don't alter their style depending on the seniority of people they are talking to. (When I was at Hoare Govett Securities back in the 1990s, one of the research people would treat juniors in a vile, discourteous manner but be fulsome and over-the-top in her humility and humbleness to those senior to her. Needless to say, she was universally loathed and despised).
(Read more: 11 ways to build an all-star team)
Third, select a team leader who inspires team members to want to follow them. This is very important. Inspiring loyalty, independent of whatever one is paying someone, is a tremendously difficult skill, as well as a rare trait to find in a person. Neal Ardley, manager of English football league club AFC Wimbledon, is one such person. Listening to him describe how he approaches team management is to hear a Masterclass on the art of leadership. His techniques include:
* Reminding people that they are allowed to make mistakes. If individuals think they will be vilified or castigated for simply making a mistake, they will never attempt anything bold or creative, and worse still will never learn anything. Reminding them that they are allowed to make errors also means they respond more positively to feedback. People who don't make mistakes don't make anything. It's important to remind your team of that;
* Telling the whole team that they are underperforming, when often it may be only one or two of them. The individuals concerned will be aware it is them that need to improve, but because they haven't been publicly bawled out in front of the others they will respond positively;
* Selecting higher performers within a team to act as informal coaches and mentors of their peers. This ensures that good practices from one or two individuals are distilled within the wider team.
Fourth, ensure an open, transparent culture and style. Everyone should be able to cover for everyone else, and even more vital, there should be no cliques, no favorites and no inner circles. Openness fosters challenge and debate, which the team leader can only generate if he/she makes clear that this is what is wanted. And if everyone knows there is no inner circle, they will immediately feel orientated towards the team's goals rather than a narrower self-interest.
And fifth, demonstrate by example. No hypocrisy or insincerity. If you really don't give a damn how someone's weekend went, then don't ask. If you do ask, listen to the answer. A genuine person is always the best team leader, and they always end up running the best teams.
Professor Moorad Choudhry is at the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Brunel University and author of The Principles of Banking (John Wiley & Sons 2012).