Updated: Feb 3, 2021
In this episode of Any.Talk, we explore why it's important when you're trying to cultivate a high performing team to focus on the 'why' and the purpose, never the 'what'. We also discuss the importance of trusting your team to deliver results and why having that shared sense of purpose is vital when working together in a high performing team
Listen to the full episode below or stream it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or anywhere else you listen to podcasts.
Here is a link to the NPR's Hidden Brain 'Finding Meaning at Work' podcast episode mentioned in this episode of Any.Talk.
Any.Talk Episode #11: High Performing Teams
Annie-Mei: Hello and welcome back to Any.Talk. I’m Annie-Mei Forster and today on the show we’re going to be talking about high performing teams. We’ve got a few new guests on the show today but first I’d like to welcome back Anywise General Manager Steven Kouloumendas. Hello, Steve.
Steve: Hello, Annie-Mei. Thanks for having me again.
Annie-Mei: And our guests on the show today are Anywise Head of Data Adam Williamson and Annie Barry who is a dietician from All Round Wellness. Hello Adam and Annie.
Annie: Hi, thank you for having me.
Annie-Mei: Alright, so we’ll jump straight into the questions now. So, I’ll start with Adam. What does a high performing team look like and do you think all high-performance teams share similar attributes?
Adam: When I think about high performing teams, I think about teams that have a shared vision, a shared goal and a shared purpose.
I guess when it comes to attributes it comes down to how you define high performing as well, right? Because what does high performing mean? Is it shipping product? Because a high performing team that pushes out, has a high productivity and a whole heap of output might have a whole heap of individuals that don’t actually talk to each other. They might all work in solos, and they kind of get the job done and that’s quote-on-quote a high performing team.
So I guess to answer the question, no they don’t all have the same attributes. But in my view, a high performing team is a team that collaborates, they can lean on each other, they can support and trust each other, and they are delivering at a high rate. But again, it comes back to – what is the goal and what does high performance look like?
Annie-Mei: Okay, thanks Adam. Annie do you agree with Adam that all high performing teams are somewhat different or do you think they do share some similarities?
Annie: I think Adam’s made some really good points. No, I definitely think high performing teams can look different. I think that perhaps there might be a shared framework of some really important things that would make up the essence of a high performing team. And definitely a shared goal is a really important factor and clear communication as to how that team’s going to work together to achieve that goal.
Annie-Mei: Thanks Annie. Steve, what do you think is needed to develop and sustain a high performing team.
Steve: Thank you, Annie-Mei. Fundamentally, the development of a high performing team, there’s so many aspects to it. So everything from what Annie and Adam just talked about having a shared goal, a shared purpose. Slightly different to the goal, having that common purpose and having that communicated throughout the team. So everyone has a clear understanding of not only what they’re doing and what the goal is but why they’re doing it. I find that’s just as important, if not more important than the outcome at times.
So having that purpose is certainly a key part to developing that high performing team and certainly sustaining it as well. Certainly for long and enduring teams that have a long campaign and a long goal. Six months, 12 months, years, if you will. Being able to continue and sustain that, often lies down to that purpose. So what are we waking up for every day? What is that team waking up for? And how are they trying to achieve that goal and why are they doing it?
So everyone being on that same page is very important. And I think part of that is fostered through culture, through communication, an environment where people and teams are allowed to grow and communicate with each other. And get to the point where they have a feeling of being part of something, working towards a goal and clearly understanding why they’re doing that.
Adam: So I think with a high performing team, it’s really important to move away from the what and more into the why.
So a recent episode of NPR’s social science podcast Hidden Brain was titled ‘Finding The Meaning of Work’, how to shape and think about your job. And the key takeaway I got out of that episode, was they took an example of a cleaner in a hospital and they interviewed this cleaner. To us, they are a cleaner in a hospital and their job is to clean, but their job was never to clean. Their job was to make sure the patient was in a safe, clean environment. To also change the water and the flowers so the family had fresh water each day, and they made their job all about purpose and why.
So they moved away from the ‘what’ and when they made it about the ‘why’ they loved their job and they loved that they were providing and giving back. And I think that’s really important. That when you want to cultivate a high performing team, you always focus on the ‘why’ and the purpose, never the ‘what’.
Annie-Mei: Okay, thanks Adam. I was wondering if each of you could give me an example of when you’ve worked in a high performing team and what you got out of working in that team and why it worked well.
Adam: So I think for me, it’s bringing it back to the ‘why’ not the ‘what’? So, you look at this year. We’ve had to implement measures, things like QR codes in cafes. And on face value the task at hand is get a QR code and update a database. What a boring piece of work that nobody really wants to do.
But when you bring it back to the ‘why’, people can safely dine in a venue and businesses can stay open. All of a sudden, your passion for this piece of work becomes so much greater. And Steve, that’s a really good example of how the team got together and got behind that ‘why’ and actually pushed forward and implemented that product.
Once again, it’s all about bringing it back to ‘why are we doing this?’ ‘Who does it benefit?’, not about the ‘what’. Because, you know what? Inserting records into a database is not that exciting. But allowing people out of their homes and into cafes and all that type of thing is really important. I think that’s what everyone can get behind.
Annie: So my example of a high performing team is probably going to go back to an endurance event that I completed a few years ago in a team of four women. It was Oxfam Trailwalker, which is a 100 km event. And to echo what Adam said, yes the ‘why’ was very important because not only were we looking for individual achievement. To do something that we’d never done before but we were also fundraising. And that brought the cause. It was much bigger than us as individuals and something that can really connect to.
And I really think that some of the keys for us were that we had a shared and clear goal. We weren’t there to win it, we were there to finish it. And as a group of four all together, we had clear communication. We trained together, we practiced. So we understood how each other worked in times of stress and duress. And how to manage that team dynamic. So by the time race day came around, it was just another day. Everything went like clockwork because we’d done it a billion times before in training.
And I think that it is definitely about having an environment where communication is encouraged and embraced versus an environment where people don’t feel they have the ability or the right to share their thoughts and opinions. And that was actually a really successful partnership but it’s also because we worked at it, not just because it magically happened.
Steve: My example of a high performing team. Being involved in sporting teams and being involved in high performing teams from a young age. And I’m almost going to reference a situation of not necessarily building a high performing sporting team but a high performing team that was doing a whole raft of different things. So anything from creating a football club to actually running it and having this shared vision and purpose of why we were doing certain things.
So it wasn’t necessarily about getting the best players and winning every single game, but the high performing team occurred because of that shared purpose and vision. And that vision was to connect people and give people the opportunity to enjoy sports. Enjoy the social element of it and be able to get together in an environment where, yes there is a sporting event on a weekly basis that occurs, and the aim of that sporting event is to win. But it’s also about getting to understand and getting to socialise with different people and bring a community aspect together.
And this high performing team evolved and had time to grow from different environments. So long-lasting friendships and long-lasting team dynamics where people would come to an event or a new aspect was required to be done, people would just very quickly communicate with each other, have trust in each other that they would say what they were going to do and achieve really great things in a short amount of time. And that was everything from creating a community club, all the way to competitions in certain sports. And also growing a community along the way as well.
At the heart of that was shared vision, purpose and enjoying the journey over the destination.
Annie-Mei: Okay, thanks Steve. So when it comes to conflicts, all teams experience some kind of conflict. So Adam, in your experience what can you do to resolve those issues?
Adam: I think when it comes to conflict especially with high performing teams, you can almost expect it. These are the types of people that are almost in competition with each other some of the time and they are, like the name suggests high performing.
I think when it comes to anything to do with conflict you can go down that path of that traditional conflict-resolution. But then you can sort of look inwards and say – is this something I could do differently next time? Is there certain parts of this team and how I’ve set that up to may be manifested that conflict in the first place?
But some of the time they just cannot be avoided. It’s just part and parcel with leading a team.
Annie-Mei: Alright, thanks Adam. Did you have anything to add to that Steve?
Steve: For me, a sign of a high performing team is a bit of conflict. And having a bit of friction within a team is almost an underlying sign to give you an idea that everyone is committed to the outcome. It’s almost the people ironing out kinks with understanding individual roles. And if there are any conflicts there then they’re trying to get to the common goal and increase that communication. Conflict is a form of that communication.
And at the root cause of it, as long as your purpose and your vision is aligned, the team outcome is the same for both people or groups that are having that conflict. And it’s about resolving that down to the common purpose and being able to realign so that everyone’s on board with the common purpose and the common output. And then understanding how they best communicate. Either what they’re expecting of each other to achieve that outcome.
Annie-Mei: Does it worry you if there is no conflict within a team?
Steve: Really good one! I wouldn’t say having conflict in a team is a prerequisite for a high performing team. So it doesn’t necessarily worry me, but I can certainly pick up vibes when people are committed. There may not be an actual conflict there but you can tell people are heavily invested in the solution and the outcome. If there was a meeting or there was a goal in a team and I saw a difference of opinion and people walked away, then that would potentially concern me because there were people that weren’t willing to resolve the issue to get to the final outcome. So that would start to concern me and give me warning signs on the communication aspects as well.
Annie-Mei: Okay, thanks Steve. So Annie, what do you think the secret is to inspiring creativity in a team without actually having to explicitly say ‘be creative’?
Annie: Yeah, no I like that a lot because creativity isn’t something that you can do on the spot. It’s something that requires a little space in order for ideas to grow and flourish. And I do like the idea of thinking about ‘where do these ideas normally come from?’. For me it might be when I’m in the shower or when I’m going for a walk or having a random chat with somebody that those ideas tend to come.
So it’s having a look at the environments that we’re in and whether we can change those environments or get people away from their computers or the meeting room to actually just create a little bit of space so some of those ideas can come through more informal ways as well.
Steve: Just wanted to echo Annie’s remarks about that environment and allowing the team the space to grow, the space to get into different areas, to allow that creativity to occur. So even if a team defines their goal and defines their mission, not necessarily defining every single nook and cranny of the path and the journey along the way. A way for them to express themselves and often that’s the best way that teams will communicate with each other and form their own individual relationships and then group relationships to achieve the better outcome.
Annie-Mei: Ok, thanks Steve. I wanna move on to talking about trust now. So Adam, how does trust have an impact on productivity and engagement within a team?
Adam: I think trust is really important and I think it’s one of those things where you have that mindset of trusting your team to deliver. I think it’s also important that you do set those guidelines so as not to have your trust broken. So for example, if you didn’t set out the expectation of something and then that wasn’t being met. For me, that’s on the leader to set those expectations upfront and then all you have at the end of the day is trust.
A really good example is you look at things like start times and end times. And people getting to work on time and trusting that they’re working during the day. I look at the example where I moved a team who were getting in around 9 o’clock and finishing around 5 and said, ‘Hey guys, we’re here to deliver work. I trust that you’re going to be doing that. So try to get here before 10 and leave after 4.
And within no time, they were starting around 8 and leaving well after 6 because they were just so invested in their work. And they knew that I just trusted them to get on with the job. I wasn’t coming down to micro-manage them or anything along those lines and that really resonates with a high performing team. Giving them the freedom to do what they need to do to get the job done.
Annie-Mei: Thanks Adam. Did you have anything to add to that, Annie or Steve?
Annie: Yeah, look I was just going to jump in and just say it’s absolutely really important that the boundaries have been set, and then everybody is trusted to work within that. We did talk about the idea of micro-managing and when we think about that, looking back at some of the other questions as well is that without being trusted to execute your role and being micro-managed in the process, that can also stifle that creativity that we talked about before. It can also create conflict, so I think trust is really integral. But as Adam said, it has to happen within an understanding of the expectations and the boundaries.
Steve: Completely echo both comments. Trust is one of the highest priorities for a high performing team and it may be different forms of trust with different relationships but certainly when you need to depend on your team, you need to trust that your team members are either looking out for you or doing what they’re saying they’re going to do. So that trust and communication is critical.
It’s often been the source of – tacking onto the previous question – conflict when that trust is broken. Biggest conflicts I’ve seen have been about that and then a high performing team will want to hold members to account and create that accountability to say, we’ve entrusted each other to provide different things. You let the team down on this occasion and bring that out. Reinforce that message of the team being more important than the individual and reinforcing that trust. That trust is something that should be valued time and time again. Any time it’s broken, it takes a fair bit longer to recover as well.
Adam: That’s some really good points, Steve. And if I could just add to that. I think about this year a lot of companies have moved to working from home. And some of those large corporations ran out and got some of that software that would monitor their staff members down to the nth degree. Making sure they’re online and checking their status and making sure they’re logged in, and there’s two thoughts that come to my mind.
One, wow what a waste of effort. That’s just a whole bunch of hours spent trying to track and monitor people. And second to that, by implementing those measures. First of all, the employee feels like they’re not trusted. Even though they were probably doing the right thing to begin with, all of a sudden it starts to make them feel like they’re not trusted. And second to that, now they’re going to start working around a system to overcome these things that you’ve installed on their computer to make sure that they’re working.
So I’m a huge believer in just allowing people to get on with the job. Being outcome focused. My philosophy is if I give you 8 hours to do a task and you can do it in 6, you’ve earned that 2 hours. You know what I mean? The outcome’s still there at the end of it. So having a really defined goal and outcome at the period that you’re working is all you really need. We work in a world where hours are really important, but ultimately those hours are just making up that outcome. So if you can achieve the outcome, that’s all that really matters in the end.
Annie-Mei: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point you made about the more you try and implement measures to try and monitor and micromanage staff, the more counterproductive it ends up being.
Alright, well we might wrap it up there. So thank you Steve, Annie and Adam for talking today about high performing teams.
Adam: Thank you.
Annie: Thanks for having us.
Steve: Thank you, Annie-Mei.