In the last two week’s blogs, I talked about the need for business acumen and the need for mission clarity, especially as a leader of the team. The massive assumption is that we actually understand what a team is. The word is used so loosely that many managers are unaware of its real meaning—or its true potential. With most working groups, performance is a function of individual efforts. A team’s performance, by contrast, requires both individual and mutual accountability.
The key is creating that mutual accountability. Way back in MBA school, I had a professor who liked to give us group assignments. At first, we complained because we thought it unfair that our grade depended on someone else’s work product. But the concept he was trying to teach us was mutual accountability. There was a flaw in his approach, but I now understand the lesson I was supposed to learn. In full disclosure, I did not grasp the concept at that time… it was only later, once I had the proper context.
Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” I’m sure this definition isn’t a surprise to anyone. But notice that it focuses on the individual. With just a moment’s thought, the difficulty in applying “accountability” to a team should seem obvious, maybe even insurmountable. But mutual accountability is essential to maintaining a high-performing team.
Here is the tricky part-to effectively lead a high-performing team, it is crucial that the leader gets out of the way! That means you must build a team with the right people and create an environment that places the good of the team over individual self-interest. As a leader, your job is to first and foremost empower the team to accomplish the task at hand. Once the team is created and empowered, each member must be emotionally committed to the team. Remember there is no single leader on a team, there is a shared leadership responsibility with collective work products.
We know that the most frequent cause of team dysfunction stems from a lack of clarity or confusion. Unspoken assumptions and expectations will lead to accusations and an unraveling of mutual accountability. Either there are disagreements and distrust, or there is a fear of conflict and emotional response, so nothing is said.
John Spence has been and continues to be a fantastic resource for OPIE Software and our users. To say that he has brought transformational thinking to O&P practice management is an understatement. In a blog on high-performing teams, John referenced the work of a student, Jared Nepa who said that “the achievements of high performing teams begin and end with great leadership.” There is a lot of meat in that blog, and I encourage you to read it.
Nepa summarizes his philosophy for leading a high-performing team like this:
The best leaders get the most out of their teams because they understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the collective effort of a team will always produce better results than a single individual if the group is lead properly. The leader must commit to surrounding themselves with the most talented people, engaging in actions focused on achieving specific results while consistently seeking feedback to improve themselves and the team. This philosophy will ensure high performance and achievement of goals.
There is a lot to unpack in that statement and you cannot just throw people on a team and expect it to work (my professor’s flaw). The team must be assembled thoughtfully. To paraphrase Jim Collins, it is not enough to get the right people on the bus, we have to get them in the right seats.