Does your team hum?

It’s reassuring to know that teams and their leaders face the same challenges regardless of sector or geography.

The big question is, how high performing is your team?

Dysfunctional teams have low productivity, conflict is characterized by misunderstandings and misinformation, and teams produce high error rates. High-performance teams collaborate with high-quality results, anticipate risks and have minimal rates of repeat errors or escalations.

Simply put, high-performance teams hum.

Enter my Team Humming Meter. There are many competencies to measure at an individual and group level. When it comes to teams, there are 4 core competencies that I look for. These 4 need to be consistently in evidence to merit calling your team a “Hummer”:

  1. Team Members Make Informed, Balanced Decisions
  2. Team Members Get Unstuck Quick
  3. Team Members Grow Others All The Time
  4. Leaders Stretch Their Teams Every Day

Is your team a Hummer? In this article, I will describe to you the characteristics and behaviors that, in my experience, provide evidence of a high performing team.

Questions for you. Following each competency, there are questions for you to answer. These will help you gauge how much your team hums. If you can quickly settle on concrete evidence or examples of where your team is good at this, then you can consider your team to be highly competent at humming! If you are struggling to find examples or evidence of humming, then use the questions as a basis for strategizing and team discussions.



Evidence # 1: Team Members Make Informed, Balanced Decisions

The team can anticipate problems as well as recognize and accurately evaluate the signs of a problem. They see the impact of a problem on multiple ‘others’ and the impact of its solution on multiple ‘others’.

The team gathers information, weighs up solution options and can articulate the actions needed. They can do this automatically, quickly, naturally. New information and changing priorities rarely knock them off track. They quickly re-assess and keep moving forward.

Humming teams know who to keep informed of what developments and changes, without communication overload and without leaning heavily on supervisory intervention. Most of their decisions are optimal, meaning their decisions don’t make everyone happy but they do address critical factors which will either affect the bottom line or people or both.

Questions for you
  • How often am I pulled into a decision that I believe my team should be able to take care of without me?
  • How clearly does my team articulate the problem with known facts?
  • What types of considerations/data does my team miss when considering solutions?
  • What types of information does the team give too much weight to? Why?
  • What is the team really trying to achieve in over-communicating solutions or actions?

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Evidence # 2: Team Members Get Unstuck Quickly

There are dozens of opportunities every day for getting stuck. Humming teams get unstuck quickly because they have many ways of approaching situations and they embrace the philosophy of “always improving”. Collectively, the team is ready to flex, negotiate and shoot for something better.

This approach means the team members can focus on issues, not people – they are adept at defusing bad feelings. They prefer to strategize and problem solve. Maintaining strong working relationships is a priority. So you’ll witness tense situations being handled with tact and diplomacy while being bolstered by business strategy and financial data.

Getting unstuck quickly is a sign that the team has effective tools and methodologies that it practices, improves on and masters. In other words, there’s solid infrastructure in place to manage routine issues as well as unexpected left field issues. And importantly, the team is aligned and actively practicing the agreed approaches. An aligned team is a productive team.

Questions for you
  • How well do team members know and trust each other?
  • How well does the team anticipate, avoid and mitigate risks?
  • Is communication open, honest, and transparent among team members?
  • How well does the team acknowledge each other as well as celebrate success?
  • How effectively does the team clear up and move forward after setbacks?


Evidence # 3: Team Members Grow Others All The Time

Swift decision-making and issue resolution creates more time to mentor and grow others. Humming teams understand the wider ramifications of this. Instead of firefighting, you’ll observe humming teams busy creating a reserve of talent within and around themselves.

Team agility. This investment enables them to respond to the unforeseen challenges, to support members within the team, and free individuals up to new growth opportunities. When one team member needs to turn their attention to a new scenario, someone else on the team can seamlessly grab the baton and run.

Talent for when you least expect to need it. Team members shadow each other, share knowledge, brainstorm, and problem solve together. Members identify their “back-up talent” (if you will) and consciously and intentionally develop people to be ready to step up when the business needs it or least expects to need it.

Let’s be frank, most of the time there are big gaps between one role and another person being ready or close to ready to step up. Too often, I’ve watched a whole client service or process crumble because all the capability rested on one individual with all the knowledge and experience. An organization’s investment of 2-3 years in one person just walks out the door and there’s no backup plan. The rest of the team is placed under high stress and with much conflict as it stumbles to deliver consistency, continuity, and expertise to a growing or high-value client base.

In humming teams, transitions are part of the big game plan. Team members accept and expect transitions of people throughout the course of a project’s lifecycle. Teams plan for them and have a well-oiled machine for hand-offs, handovers, and step-ups. In some instances, an organization’s survival depends heavily on the ability of their humming teams to transition people smoothly, that is, to grow up-and-coming talent all of the time.

Questions for you
  • Which of your critical operational tasks do you have “backup talent” for?
  • Do the leaders of your team effectively motivate each team member?
  • How well does the team handle transitions of team members out of the team?
  • How well does the team help new team members ramp up and achieve performance quickly?
  • How effectively does the team learn about how it can work together better?
  • Which areas of collaboration and knowledge sharing does the team find challenging?

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Evidence # 4: Leaders Stretch Their Teams Every Day

For leaders of humming teams, one might ask “Does the team still need me?” The wonderful answer is “Yes, and then some…”

Let’s take a closer look.

Your humming team makes great decisions, you are informed but not dragged into to every conflict, there’s a high level of trust among the team and the team itself has a strong reputation across the organization for getting things done. Your peers seek you out for your perspective and opinions, how you handled similar challenges or similar personalities.

Your team members frequently cross functional lines so they have first-hand understanding of the impact of their work on others or the demands on other business areas. You can comfortably “loan” out team members to relieve pressure on resources within your own area or to outside related areas. You understand the strengths of team members. You actively secure new strategic opportunities to expose them to in order to grow them or the team further.

Your bird’s eye view allows you to swoop down to help here and there. You trust your team members to know when to ask you for help. Your involvement inspires and motivates people. You comfortably navigate distinctions between supporting and fixing, between creating awareness and rolling up your sleeves, between holding their toes to the fire and backing them on tough decisions.

Team members are compelled to commit to your vision.

And in case you missed it, this is how you challenge your team every day. We all need someone to hold us accountable for our promises and actions. You stretch your team every day by supporting the standard you expect of them and that you know them to be able to meet or exceed.

Questions for you
  • How well do I know the motivations of my team members?
  • How well do I know the strengths of my team members?
  • Can my team members articulate a vision for their own roles that align with the organization’s vision?
  • Where do I need my team to excel? (Or where are my biggest pain points?)
  • Who holds me accountable for stretching my team members?

Whether we inherit a team, build one and come through the team to lead it, humming teams have a ripple effect throughout and beyond our organization… just like dysfunctional teams. Only the results show up positively on the bottom line.

Click here to learn about my Team Productivity Programme.



Featured Image CC by Maja Dumat