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Improving Team Performance

We have looked at how we can go about measuring team performance. This is an integral part of performance management but simply knowing and sharing all the details of team performance won’t improve it.  There has to be a shared desire in the team to improve with results that also benefit each individual team member.

Consider the defence team of a football side made up of a goalkeeper and three defenders.  Using the measures from the last blog post we know that this team is good, not exceptional but competent enough.  We could ask the team to improve and they could nod and agree.  Chances are nothing happens.  We show the team stats and figures, to display where improvements can be made.  There might be surprises and nervous laughter.  They all nod and look at each other, they can do better… nothing happens.


This has nothing to do with not wanting to improve team performance.  If the team is already performing then chances are they are in a routine or pattern that ‘works’.  At least for them, right now.  Small adjustments to the routine will provide small improvements over a short period of time but won’t result in significant change.  The routine is too strongly ingrained and old habits will start creeping back in.  There is the fear that by trying to improve they will ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and performance will drop.   They won’t ever  reach their potential by improving their team performance.

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” ~ Frank Zappa

The problem is that significant change comes with significant upheaval.  Because of this if an outside force imposes change on a team, the team will unconsciously (or consciously) resist.  The desire to improve team performance must come from every team member.  The desire for change must come from within the team to ensure that change is entrenched and followed through.  The best (and perhaps the only) way to bring the idea of significant change into the team’s thinking is to lead them to discovering it themselves.

Discovering Team Performance

It can be very hard for anyone to admit they find some things challenging.  In a similar vein, some people lack confidence in their own natural strengths to recognise they do things better than others.  The defence team might have a great goalkeeper who isn’t in goal while the actual goalkeeper would prefer to have more freedom to move around the pitch.  It might be quite difficult for them to own up to this as these are significant changes but could improve team performance significantly.  This is where the value of an impartial profile test can be used to establish things that team members may take for granted both about themselves and each other.

So this is the starting point for improving team performance.

  1. An understanding that to significantly improve performance, significant change must be undertaken
  2. Leading the team to a point where they discover significant change is needed
  3. Provide a foundation of self and team awareness using an impartial tool such as a profile test.

The next step is to gather the team together with the measurements that you have gathered and use these as supporting material rather than jumping off points.  The team as a whole needs to discuss and examine both their own roles and the other members roles and performance.  This should be done in a relaxed and objective matter with the focus being on improvement to the team rather than the individual.  Insights from the team members and guidance from the profile test results should allow the team members to volunteer ideas of how they can help the team function more effectively.

Rather than concentrate on small ideas, big ideas (significant changes) should be encouraged and developed.  Areas where team performance is currently being subconsciously hampered should be explored with team members encouraged to contribute ideas of solving problems.  Skills should not be dwelt upon to the exclusion of ideas but skill gaps should be identified.

The final step is to draw these ideas together under headings.  Going back to the defence team we already have three headings.

  1. Stop the opposing side from scoring
  2. Take the ball away from the opposing side
  3. Get the ball to the midfield team

Duplicates should be discarded and ideas should be placed under headings that will have the most impact.  The anticipated results should be discussed between the team members with some approximate quantitative measures put in place with timescales.  The results should not only look at the benefit to the team but the benefit to the individual team members.

This ensures that the team is focused on the significant changes towards improving team performance.  The changes have come from the team and they can see the benefits on making the changes.  This will mean that the changes are more likely to be implemented with a massive improvement in results.

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Measuring Team Performance

Team Performance

We’ve looked before at understanding the difference between groups and teams.  This blog looks at once we have defined our team how do we go about measuring team performance?  The objective of performance management is to improve performance.  In order to do that we need to measure the current level of team performance.  On the surface this can can seem complicated, with the interaction between individual performance and team performance.

Goals and Targets

In a survey of Fortune 500 and other companies across a variety of industries on internal obstacles to team success,  48% of respondents said that team members don’t set appropriate goals for the team and then build and implement a plan for reaching them.  For a team to work effectively and to be measured appropriate goals need to be set.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, teams are not always the best fit for some goals.  Lets review:

  • Is the task complex, requiring different skills and different areas of knowledge?
  • Is creativity needed?
  • Is the route towards task completion unclear?
  • Do descisions need to be made quickly?
  • Is time is available for discussion and team development?

If you can’t answer yes to at least half these questions, consider if you actually need a team.  Lets take it as a given that you have answered yes, that the goal is the right fit for your team.

The next step is to look at how you wish to measure the team performance.  The obvious way to measure how the team is doing doesn’t usually provide enough measurements to improve performance.   Lets use the football team analogy again.

The defence team is focused on stopping the opposing side from scoring, taking the ball away from the opposing side and feeding it to the midfield team.  Their team performance can be measured in goals scored by the opposing team.

We have a very simple measurement for the performance of the team: goals scored by the opposition.  If the opposition is scoring goals there is something not working with the team… but knowing this information won’t provide us with a solution to improve the team.  It needs to be broken down further into the smaller team tasks, the team performance of those tasks and the performance of individual members.  This is so each part of the whole can be examined and measured.

In this example we have 3 clear team tasks:

  1. Stop the opposing side from scoring
  2. Take the ball away from the opposing side
  3. Get the ball to the midfield team

These tasks can be accomplished by every member of the team individually but how does the team unit perform at each one of those tasks?

1. Stop the opposing side from scoring

The key measures here are anticipation, communication and skill.

  • When the ball is in the opposing sides hands how quickly does the team anticipate the threat?  Are they in the best position to deal with the threat? (i.e. the goal keeper isn’t out of the goal area)
  • How well do they communicate to each other their perspective of the situation, what they are doing and where each person needs to be?
  • How skilled is the goal keeper at saving attempted shots at goal.

2. Take the ball away from the opposing side

The key measures here are fitness and skill.

  • Is the team fit enough to keep up with opposing team’s players?  Do they have the strength to block the opposing players path?
  • How many succesful tackles are made?
  • How many times does a succesful tackle take the ball from the opposing side?
  • How many times must the goalkeeper make an attempted save?

3. Get the ball to the midfield team

The key measures here are awareness and skill

  • How well does the team know where an unmarked or free player is?
  • How many complete passes are made?
  • How many passes are intercepted?

As you can see the individual performance of team members can start to be examined by breaking things down into how they work together as a team.


So far we have only concentrated on the processes of the team as these are the simplest things to measure but there is also the need to measure behaviour.  This is where the measures becomes qualitative rather than quantitative as we examine the team dynamic.  Following through with the football team analogy, these measures could include such things as:

  • Participation in training sessions.
  • Contribution of ideas.
  • Constructive communication and feedback.
  • Fostering team cooperation.

To measure the qualitative contributions of the individual requires a degree of awareness about that individual member, especially if there is poor performance in the team but everyone seems to be contributing.  This suggest that one or more of the team members is out of flow with the others.  This is where the value of a profile test such as the one provided by Talent Dynamics comes in.

Perhaps a team member prefers communicating in a certain way that is not being met and is pushing themselves to communicate outside their comfort zone.  Although on the surface it would show that the team is working well but in actual fact one team member is under more stress than the others, contributing to a lowering of the team performance.

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[VIDEO] Una’s Spotlight: Making Ideas Happen

In this first in a series of Unas Spotlight Vlogs, Una shares the secrets that Walt Disney used for creating ideas and bringing them to life and screen!

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Group or Team Performance?

Soccer Team PerformanceOne of the goals (pun intended) of performance management is to improve team performance.  This is sometimes harder to do than it first appears.  To begin with, a group of people working together does not make a team.  It’s right there in the sentence: they are a group, not a team.  So how can you tell the difference?

The easiest way is to look at what it is they do.  If they all have the same skills and are independently responsible for their own performance whilst not relying on input from other people then they can be thought of as a group.  The next step is to ask ‘if they worked more closely together, would it improve performance?’  In the case of a group the answer would be no.  This is largely down to the fact that the group members are individually responsible and work independently.

So what makes a team?

  • A team works towards a common set of goals which are clearly defined
  • The team works together towards the objectives
  • The team shares leadership
  • The team is jointly and individually accountable for performance
  • The team strongly identifies themselves as ‘a team’

This is the first step of improving team performance, recognising whether you have a group or a team.

Why Use Teams?

Teams are incredibly effective when used correctly but a team is not always the answer you need.  A team is not the best approach if you need immediate action or require specialist or technical expertise.  A team is wasted if the task is small, simple or straightforward.

Teams are a must if:

  • The task is complex, requiring different skills and different areas of knowledge
  • Creativity is needed
  • The route towards task completion is not clear
  • Descisions need to be made quickly
  • Time is available for discussion and team development

A slightly controversial example to illustrate team performance (feel free to comment below):

A football team is not actually a team, in this case it is a group.  Within that group of ‘the football team’ are small effective teams focused on common team performance objectives.

1. Defence Team: This team is focused on stopping the opposing side from scoring, taking the ball away from the opposing side and feeding it to the midfield team.  Their team performance can be measured in goals scored by the opposing team (in this case low numbers are good)

2. Midfield Team: This team is focused on drawing the entire group together, reacting differently whether they have the ball or the opposing side has the ball.  Their team performance can be measured in completed passes.

3. Offensive Team: This team is focused on scoring goals and that is their only team performance measurement  (in this case high numbers are good).

As a group the football team is responsible for their individual performance.  The 3 separate teams are focused on common objectives and rely on each other to work towards the objective: defence on stopping goals, midfield on dictating play and offence on scoring goals.

Now that we have identified our teams we can focus on the areas of team performance we want to improve.

Obviously the lines can get blurry but I think the distinction stands.  So… do you think the entire football team is a group or a team and why?

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What is Communication?

CommunicationIn order to get the most from performance management you have to have communication.  People, teams, departments and even seperate businesses need to communicate.  This is sometimes easier said than done.

When I think of the word communicate I imagine the transmission of ideas or instructions.  I also imagine the reception of those same thoughts and ideas.  In my head its very much two cans on a piece of string.  But that isn’t what the word communication actually means.  Communication comes from the Latin “communis“, meaning to share.  Its the same root as communal and community.

How much communication is undertaken with the thought of the recipient in mind?

People take in information differently.  Some prefer face-to-face, some written, some via the phone.  All of these have their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of practicality but if we are honest we communicate in the form we prefer.  This isn’t always the best way to ensure information is received.  Consider the preferences of the person you are communicating with.  How are they most likely to take in the information?

Some of the most common problems of communication is in misunderstanding.  The message is sent but not received correctly.  Again this can be solved by going back to the root meaning of sharing.  Ask for feedback on the message you have just sent, not only to allow for additional ideas or improvements but also to allow you to judge whether the message has been received correctly.  In this way you are not transmitting the message but are sharing it.

Top 5 Communication Tips

1. Remove complexity.

Consider two messages.  One is packed with jargon and tangents wildly.  The other sticks to the point and keeps everything as simple as possible.  Which is the easiest to understand?

2. Share as much as you can.

Often critical pieces of information are withheld, either through company policy or through error.  Ensure that you are aware of all the relevant information and give access to it through communication.  Ensure you ask whether the other party needs any other information to get the job done or have full understanding of what has just been said.

3. Remove barriers.

Hierarchy and communication processes can often stop the sharing of information.  Ensure that feedback is encouraged and that the best channels are identified, explained and used.

4. Foster co-operation.

Competiton drives problems in communication.  If people or departments are in competiton with each other, barriers will be erected and mistrust will fester.  Unite teams and departments through a shared purpose and encourage transparency to ‘get the job done’.

5. Involve others.

The best way to communicate is through knowledge of yourself and other people.  Be as clear and honest as you can be.  This will increase levels of trust in the team as you become reliable and approachable.  The Talent Dynamics Profile Test is a good place to start in knowing where your team’s natural strengths lie and where trust can be easily built.

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Performance Indicators (K is for Critical)

Performance IndicatorsAs part of any performance management you need performance indicators.  How ‘key’ these might be depend upon your business and your team.  We can agree the performance indicators for a multinational business are very different from a local cornershop but what about between departments or teams? Even people?

A performance indicator is a defined value used to measure against.  With it you can track ‘how you are doing’.  As such it is often something that is seen at the end of the process but it should be seen right at the start.

The problem is that in order to ‘measure’ we have to ‘do’ so we naturally put the performance indicator after the action (that’s where the excitement is anyway), if we put it the other way around we would have nothing to measure.  However, this attitude risks several things:

1. The performance indicator is removed from the original objective.

2. The performance indicator is confused with other metrics (there’s A LOT you can measure out there!)

3. The performance indicator doesn’t change despite your business, team or project changing radically.

4. The performance indicator doesn’t give you  anything more than success or failure.

You might have noticed I have only mentioned the word ‘key’ once, that is because you can have performance indicators which aren’t ‘key’.  To achieve business growth the indicators need to be critical to your future plan.  They figure right at the beginning before you ‘do’ anything because if these indicators don’t happen resources will be wasted and the plan is unlikely to happen.

Getting Performance Indicators Right.

In order for everyone to understand how critical these performance indicators are they need to know:

1. Why the plan is being put into action?

2. What are the critical performance indicators that will be needed?  An important point here is for the team to be involved in deciding what needs to be measured.  Not only will there be a range of different ideas that might not have been thought of but also so the team can ‘own’ these measures as critical to the future.  They will know what actions will need support.

3. Who is responsible for which performance indicators?  This isn’t just about balancing out the tasks but providing the right skills, talents and experience to ensure that the critical actions are undertaken.  You can use the Talent Dynamics profile test to help work out who will be good at what.

4. Where and when will these performance indicators will be tracked?  There is no good hiding away what will be measured and when.  Allow the team to ‘own’ the measures, to stay motivated and allow them to support each other.

5. How will success be measured? If the performance indicator is fallen short of, this doesn’t mean a failure.  If I wanted an 100% increase in sales but only got to 95%, in what world would I call that a failure?  What the performance indicators show is the degree of success achieved and what happened that made it such a success or why performance did not meet expectation.

There is another step however…

6. What needs to change in order for a greater result to be achieved?  Performance indicators should never remain static or fixed.  Unless they are put to use in answering how something can be done better, a great part of the value of measuring the actions is lost.

Performance indicators are critical to your business because they are the key to your business growth!

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What is Motivation?

MotivationMotivation is something we all want and need.  We understand ‘what is motivation’, yet many of us find it lacking, especially when we work in teams.  Why?  Performance management looks at increasing the motivation of people and teams to get more from them, yet it often seems like pushing a boulder up a mountain.

Defining Motivation

Looking at the dictionary we can see two meanings to the word motivation.

1. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

2. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

The first definition of motivation shows us that it is very logical and rational.  We are motivated when we are given a reason to be motivated.  This definition also seems to talk about motivation in the past as in “what motivated you?”

The second definition seems to contradict the first.  A desire to do something is emotional rather than rational.  We are motivated because we want to do something.  This definition also seems to talk about motivation in the future as in “what will motivate you?”

So motivation is both rational and emotional, facts and feelings.  Motivation also seems to sit between the past and the future, very much in the ‘now’.

Why Do We Need Motivation?

Without something to drive us forward, whether they be facts or feelings, we wouldn’t do anything.  When we weren’t hungry we wouldn’t eat. When we didn’t know something we wouldn’t learn.  Nothing would move forward.  Everything would be stuck in a rut.

People and teams can get stuck in a rut.  It can happen very easily.  A person or team could be happy at home, paid well and have plenty of holidays yet still they seem stuck.

Who Has Motivation?

‘Ah ha’, you might say, ‘the boss or team leader isn’t giving them enough motivation!’

Really? Whether it is facts or feelings, motivation comes from within.  In this case, how can you give motivation?  It isn’t some kind of magical power up or chemical energy drink.  The person or team member needs to ‘own’ their own motivation.

For the person this can be quite simple, do what you love.  If you let your passions fuel you as an individual then you’ll be motivated to continue.  If you concentrate on what you are good at, more will be done in less time.

This is flow.  The path of least resistance or the ‘thing’ that motivates you from within.

Yet everyone has strengths and challenges.  If everyone only did what they were good at certain things would be done well and quickly while other things would be ignored.

This is one of the reasons why we naturally form groups and teams.  We can do more, with less.

Where Is The Motivation In A Team?

We’ve established everyone has a way to motivate themselves, or ‘get into flow’.  What is the best way to motivate a team?  With a mix of different motivations the team can be pulled left and right as it chases the motivations of the individual members.

The team needs to understand its own shared purpose.  Why they have come together in the first place.  Once they all agree and understand their primary purpose, or team motivation, they can look at who will be good at what , motivating individuals to move forward towards their goal.  It won’t matter how close or far away it is, how simple or difficult it will be.  This is because the team understands why.

How To Motivate A Team?

So motivation or flow comes from within.  Its a personal thing but how can a group keep up the motivation?  Talent Dynamics looks at this question and gives a simple answer.  You cannot get yourself fully into flow, you can only get others into flow.

It is the team that motivates the team.  With one success, the team wins.  With one problem, the team solves it.  Each member covers the challenges of the other while using their particular strengths to make progress for the shared purpose.

In this way, the cycle of motivation can close on itself becoming truly sustainable.

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