For me, one of the most rewarding parts of being a leader, and now an executive coach, has been the honor of leading and coaching high-performing teams. I believe that the key to building such a team lies in creating an environment of trust, open dialogue, and strong processes to keep your team aligned to the customer’s needs, business purpose, and goals. As the marketplace and customer expectations continue to change, it is critical for organizations to be able to quickly adapt and flex to meet those needs. This is one reason for the rise in the number of companies with less hierarchical structures and more teams. In today’s world, successful companies are winning by being able to build strong, effective teams that stay focused on the activities that continue to drive improved customer satisfaction and business results. This is even more critical to be able to do quickly and with limited resources.
I wanted to share two of the best team-building exercises I have successfully used with my own team, as well as the leaders I coach. To start, the foundation and fuel of a high-performing team is getting team members to the level that they have honest dialogue and will provide positive, motivating, and constructive feedback to their fellow team members and the leader.
Once the team is:
- Knows and feels comfortable with each other,
- Has a personal connection to the right, motivating vision,
- And aligned with the business purpose,
…then they are ready to go to the next level. In both exercises, the leader can act as the facilitator if he or she can step out of the role of boss. If the leader needs to participate as a critical team member, then ideally you will use an external facilitator.
Stop, Start, Continue
I initially became aware of using this process when I went through Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Since I really liked the simplicity, I tried it with my learning team.
- Post the team’s vision/mission to ensure everyone understands the connection to the company’s vision. Ask, “As a team, for us to be the most effective, what do we need to stop, start, and continue to do to make a significant, positive impact on the vision and business results?” Have the team vote on the top few things they agree to focus on.
- Next, have each team member individually identify the top things that they personally need to do to best support the team in accomplishing their goals using the same stop, start, continue framework. Have each team member present their top things and get feedback from the team. You can do this anonymously or not, depending on the maturity of the team, to help each individual identify the most critical things.
- Agree upon and set up a few action items for the team as a whole and the individual team members.
- Check back on progress. You can use an easy check-in scale of 1-5, with 1 being no progress and 5 being outstanding.
I used this exercise as a newer leader of a team, where we brought people from operations to deliver training to managers of 700 restaurants. We created the honest, open dialogue to the point that the team began doing the stop, start, continue discussions monthly, as part of our regular face-to-face team meeting. The ten team members would post their top two stops, starts, and continues on the wall. We would go around the room, and everyone would openly provide feedback directly to the team member, including me as the leader.
After going through the process a couple of times, team members looked forward to this monthly session. As a leader, it was my favorite day to work, to see the growth of my team, team members, and to get feedback for me. This team was amazing, especially since it was evolving, with a quarter to half of the team changing out yearly. Not only did we consistently exceed our team goals, but the team members became one of the most cohesive teams with the strongest alliance to each other. When I first took over this team, we were routinely understaffed. Over time, we consistently had a waiting list of people that wanted to be interviewed to be part of this team. Even after 20 years, many of these people have stayed great friends and supporters, even though their lives have taken them on different paths.
Building Effective Teams without Wasting Time
This is a Marshall Goldsmith process, and I highly recommend you read Goldsmith’s full article to learn how to do the exercise.
I’ve used the team building without wasting time approach both as the VP of Learning and Development for McDonald’s U.S., and also through the process of getting certified in Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholders coaching program. At McDonald’s, I used it with my three Senior Directors and myself as the leadership team. This process, due to its more structured approach, felt like a better way to build the team since we had people with varying backgrounds, responsibilities, and abilities to have the required level of honest dialogue.
On a 1 to 10 scale (with 10 being ideal), we assessed, “How well are we doing in terms of working together as a team?” We scored a 7. On the second question, “On a 1 to 10 scale, how well do we need to be doing in terms of working together as a team?” this already strong team wanted to be a 10!
After great open dialogue and problem solving, we identified the two areas we would focus on. The first was breaking down and analyzing when we had breakdowns across our 200+ person team (things that didn’t work as well as we wanted, missed a project deadline, etc.). We would debrief why, identify what we could do better, and then implement improvements. We also worked on enhancing our communication so others could jump in and help and ensure the alignment of our work was at the highest level. By doing these two things, we easily and quickly moved up our actions and score as a stronger team. This is the team that won one of the top two spots on the Learning Elite Top Global Companies.
Though as the leader I loved seeing our team’s improvement, the thing that I found most meaningful was the personal growth I saw in my leaders. I asked each person, “If every team member could change two key behaviors that would help us close the gap between where we are and where we want to be, which two behaviors should each one of us try to change?” Just being aware of the top behaviors that each one of us needed to change to help the team improve was the clarity needed to propel our team results and teamwork to the next level. As a leader, my leadership team helped me to improve my active listening skills, as well as to help keep my leaders even more aligned with the rapidly changing business priorities.
Give these exercises as try!
Come back and share your experiences, what you learn, and how you see your team grow over time.