August 24, 2021
Raising the Collective Performance of a Team
I’ve been reading “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman, a book that raises the question: Why can individual performance vary so wildly from situation to situation? Much of what Wiseman (2017) speaks about focuses on two different types of leaders, named diminishers and multipliers. Diminishers tend to bring the collective productivity of a team down, while multipliers raise the collective performance of a team. There are five key concepts you can utilize to increase the collective performance of your team that we focus on within our group at Faith Technologies.
Micromanagers, swoopers, fixers — there are plenty of terms for bad leadership traits often shown by diminishers. Multipliers, however, enable teams to perform at a high level through the following:
- Focus on clearing roadblocks and allowing associates to own the results of their work.
- Create a safe environment in which everyone feels valued and is encouraged to learn new skills and take on stretch assignments.
- Provide support and guidance, but resist jumping in too soon when issues arise.
I was having a conversation regarding a new initiative and realized that my cohort was showing signs of struggle. Diving in, I learned that they had a fear of failure and didn’t want to take risks on projects in which they weren’t a demonstrated expert. This stemmed from a previous situation in which they had inadvertently applied a change to the incorrect environment, causing an outage to a key system. Due to the disciplinary nature of their leader at the time, fear of failure drove their actions over the past decade. We all know that everyone makes mistakes. Leaders of high-performing teams enable their associates to work without fear of being chastised or second guessed.
A mentor of mine challenged me early in my career to listen more than 60% of the time in one-on-one conversations. That has been a difficult goal for me in my leadership journey, even after years of practice; it is a natural tendency for humans to want to speak to display expertise or quickly gain acceptance of an idea. Talking more and listening less is a common tactic of diminishers. Leaders who build high-performing teams take an approach of asking questions, ensuring everyone has a chance to provide his or her view, and listening emphatically to the voices of their team.
If you find yourself in a situation in which you are commanding the conversation, step back and reflect. Am I talking too much? Am I genuinely providing my expertise because I was asked to do so? Do I need to ask for the opinions of others?
Ever have that leader that you just gravitated to? A leader you felt you knew, trusted, and were truly a member of the team? That leader likely built that trust through a sense of authenticity. During a coaching conversation, a former associate revealed that trust was the most important value they held and described authentic behavior as the way to build trust with them. I asked, “Define what authentic means to you,” to which they replied, “You know it when you see it.”
I took a while to digest that response, assessing personal examples of authenticity. I ended up recalling a particularly difficult moment I’d witnessed in a meeting where a peer hesitantly interrupted a presenter admitting that they didn’t understand the subject and requested more clarity. It took courage and vulnerability to admit that they didn’t understand the topic, and they instantly built trust by displaying authenticity.
Coaching is a concept that many leaders don’t fully understand. Often a leader will claim that they coached their team on a subject when all they really did was instruct them on exactly what they should do. Telling an associate, “This is how I would do it,” can sometimes be an effective influencing technique to get the outcome a leader wants, but the method has drawbacks as well.
First, the person being directed often fails to understand the why behind what they are doing. Even if a leader explains their reasoning for the action and why it worked, there may be difficulty associating the directive with the current situation. In addition, they may be hesitant to think independently in the future but will continue to rely solely upon the instruction of their leader.
Ultimately, coaching comes down to asking the right questions so that the associate comes to a successful conclusion on their own. Open-ended questions are a powerful tool for any leader. You can uncover competing commitments, reduce the risk of your own bias skewing the outcome of a scenario and allow the conversation to move into areas you hadn’t considered. “What does success look like for you in the project?” will generally reveal a more insightful response than, “Will we have met all of the project requirements if we deliver this feature by next week?”.
My favorite takeaway from “Multipliers” is the idea of challenging teams. Remember the misconception “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself”? Leaders are often promoted from the ranks of the best individual contributors, which can create an environment of over-the-shoulder observation and second-guessing decisions of others, as the leader who was a great individual contributor prevents their own team from fulfilling their potential.
Challengers, on the other hand, lay out stretch goals, are cheerleaders and always recognize value in learning even if lofty goals were not met. Developing a business process? Inquire if it’s possible to reduce the number of steps by two. Need to increase sales by 20% in two years? Challenge the team to come up with three ideas each on how we can do it in one year.
Be consistent in your leadership actions and leave no team member behind. Through these actions you can raise the performance of your team and learn from them along the way.
References: Wiseman, Elizabeth (2017). Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Harper Business.