The secrets of high-performing teams

While a motivated team is important to succeed in today’s competitive business world, a team that embraces entrepreneurial thinking can be a real game-changer. But can that mindset be taught?

As a leader of your organization, you strive for one thing more than any other – having a team performing at its best. It’s a win-win-win situation. When the team performs at the highest possible potential, everyone benefits: the company, the leader and the team itself.

However, the million-dollar question is “How can we make the team perform at its best?”

We can rephrase that question as: “How can we motivate the team to perform at its best?

In today’s fast changing, technology driven world, one thing is for sure, the carrot & stick approach no longer works. Daniel Pink, author of the best-selling book “Drive,” summarized what drives us:

“When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system – which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators – doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: 1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

If we simplify and blend these points with other organizational psychological findings, we can say that the best way to make the team perform at its best is to make them think like an entrepreneur.

Here are some of the practical ways to make the team entrepreneurial.

1. Let the team question everything

One of the things stifles innovation, and creativity is having the team follow orders. As much as we encourage our children to think creatively, we should encourage our team also think outside the box. And the first step in that direction is to let the team question the norm. Don’t let the team be bogged down with status quo thinking.

This is how entrepreneurs instinctively think. They question every step with “why?” and follow up with “how (to improve)?”

In Sanskrit, there is a saying: “With different minds, there are different ways of thinking.”

In simple terms, encourage brainstorming. Don’t underestimate the power of your team. Let the team suggest new and creative ways to perform the same old task. You will be surprised by the innovative way that will help reduce resources and increase morale.

2. Forget bureaucracy – Encourage autonomy

This goes back to Daniel Pink’s point above. If the team “feels” they’re in charge, rather than “forced” to do the project, the outcome will have a tremendously positive effect.

I have seen this firsthand and I always encourage the team to come up with their goals, suggestions, deadlines and schedule.  As long as they’re not too far from the corporate goals and deadlines, I let them stick to those. If they are far from the corporate requirements, we discuss and understand why.

It is better to discuss and have their say in the finally agreed deadlines than the one corporation dictates to stick to. In those cases, more often than not, the team will come across such a hurdle that the deadlines will need to be revised.

3. Let the team (cross) learn new technology

Especially in the IT field, the hunger to learn new things, to add new tools and tricks to the arsenal is always there. In light of the limited budget for training, the best way is to let the team cross-train each other. Encourage them to share their expertise and also allow learning from others within the organization.

For example, in my organization, the BI (business intelligence) team has great insight and experience in the data warehouse, data modeling, BI tool architecture and business requirements. On the other hand, the business analytics team has a better understanding of the data science, analytics and statistical model concepts. They still need to use data and lack the expertise of the database design side that the BI team has. At the same time, BI team feels they are losing out on the latest trends in the data science and machine learning worlds.

Both teams possess complementary skill sets. So, we encourage the team to come up with join projects where they can share their respective knowledge and expertise. Lunch and learn sessions are another way to get the team trained on such topics without leaving the corporate campus.

4. Forget Agile, encourage agility

While Agile development methodology is a great project management tool, there are still corporations that follow many other ways, including SDLC or the Waterfall model.

Irrespective, agility at the team level is essential to get the best out of the team. Entrepreneurial thinking is simple – fail fast and fail forward. If the team is encouraged to test out some options, let the outcome be evaluated fast. Then either continue or find alternate ways. However, in large corporations with bureaucratic structure and lack of autonomy at the team level, steering in another direction when one option is not viable is not only difficult, it could be detrimental to the team as well as the organization.

5. Take the torch, be the entrepreneurial leader

As we started with the wish, to have a team performing at its best, as a leader, it is our responsibility to set a path in that direction.

To wish and encourage entrepreneurial thinking for the team, the leader needs to start and show the work. The team needs to have the trust in the leader as one who not only talks the talk but walks the walk.

A leader has to start questioning the norms. Discuss with the team, gather suggestions, ideas and get back to the senior management to make them implement those new ways. This will help the team assure that the change happens. There are ways to express and options to implement ideas.

Rewarding the team who come up with ideas that save the company in terms of time or money should be encouraged too. Not all ideas and suggestions can be accommodated, so be open to the team about those limitations. If the leader and the team act as one, not two different entities, the team will perform at its best!

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