The three E’s: energy, engagement and exploration
To enforce high performance, it is highly relevant to look at the essence of the best performing teams. MIT researchers discovered that the most flourishing teams let everyone talk and listen roughly the same amount of time, face each other and not only the leader when talking, are energetic and explore other teams to bring back relevant information.
Three major aspects of communication influence team performance: energy, engagement and exploration. Energy represents the amount of exchanges between members, engagement reflects the distribution of energy within a team while exploration is the level of interaction with other teams. The most productive teams prove to have a well-balanced energy level where nobody dominates the conversation and nobody is left alone and silent in the corner. And especially for the creative teams, exploration outside the team is crucial to get fresh insight and innovative sources of inspiration.
A study published in 2009 decoded the communication in 60 business teams discussing the annual strategy. It became obvious that high-performing teams are more positive and that there is a reasonable balance between talking about customers and co-workers and the team itself. Low-performing groups seem to argue a lot more. They focus narrowly on their own tasks and are not as curious about others.
High-performers lose the blinkers
Ramboll Management Consulting has examined around 40,000 business teams during the last couple of years. The successful ones all seem to care not only about themselves, but acknowledge their role in a wider perspective.
“You have to develop a culture where everyone realises that they contribute to the bigger picture. Members of low-performing teams are often afraid to step out of their own group, because management measures their contribution to one particular team,” says Carsten Sørensen, who reiterates that team leaders must motivate employees by clarifying their role in the company strategy, and encourage them to help other departments.
Ramboll surveys show that one particular incident often decides whether a team will flourish or not. Low-performers have often experienced an unjustified sacking of a team member or enduring harassments. High-performers have perhaps seen colleagues getting promoted, leaving the team behind but inspiring the rest of the group to perform better and improve their own chance of following their professional dreams.
A recent example is a Ramboll satisfaction survey of 500 workers in the Norwegian postal service, Norway Post. The results were explicit: the existing satisfaction and performance levels were untenably low. Therefore, Ramboll consultants initiated an Appreciative Inquiry process, where management shifted from a problem-oriented approach to an appreciative style that involves the employees, focuses on their strengths and inspires them to break negative patterns of interaction. As a result, 80% of the employees are now more satisfied, sickness absence has decreased and customers feel more welcome.
Five keys to leading performance
High performance has indeed become a science. This can all seem slightly fluffy, so to make the heavy knowledge more digestible, here is a list of advice on how to create the most successful business team, based on research from MIT and learning from thousands of surveys conducted by Ramboll Management Consulting:
1. Use language as a force
Communication is key. Everything is not about maximizing, optimizing and streamlining. Be energetic, listen with enthusiasm and involve everyone in an appreciative manner.
2. Engage your team in the company story and strategy
Strong teams are characterised by a high information level that keeps them engaged in the organisation as a whole. Weekly briefings are preferable.
3. Keep a strong focus on creating a strong culture
Strong determination is vital to develop a high performance culture, as a lack of focus can destroy any ambition.
4. Be visible and take the lead when it comes to exploration outside the team
The leader must show the way forward and put the meaning of team work into a wider context.
5. Be enthusiastic about your team members’ ambitions, development and learning
Maintain a positive feedback culture and let your employees use their strengths.
- Pentland, Alex (2012): The New Science of Building Great Teams, Harvard Business Review.
- Losada, Marcial; Heaphy, Emily (2009): The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams, American Behavioral Scientist.