Rebuilding an underperforming team or department is a huge challenge. The issues you will face from the team could include low morale, rapid staff turnover and high absenteeism levels. The managers involved could also have poor leadership skills, which is likely to hinder not help the situation. If employees are uncertain about their own future this can have a further negative affect and will make matters worse. A manager in this situation could feel so overwhelmed by all the problems that they will stick their head in the sand and hope it will go away.
A team needs to analyse its structure – how it works, what its strengths and weaknesses are and the role each individual plays within it. You need to get quickly to the root cause of problems and plan remedial measures to implement quickly. Self awareness plays a huge part. People often don’t know how other members of their team see them. One manager might see himself as an assertive leader but in reality he is an autocratic dictator. He in turn might have a low opinion of the quietly spoken people. Everyone needs to appreciate that both types of people are essential to the success of the team. It relies on three factors:
• Self and team awareness – identifying individual’s strengths and limitations
• Recognise different contributions – teams bring together complementary skills and experience
• Plug the gaps – modifying behaviour brings enhancements to the team.
One factor that differentiates “dream teams” from “teams from hell” is a strong platform of understanding. Self awareness and an awareness of other people’s style are crucial if a team is going to reach more ambitious performance goals. There needs to be an acceptance that WE have a joint problem and WE need a joint strategy to tackle it. Differences are not good or bad, better or worse. A High Performance Team will be aware of the work styles of the different profiles and that each contributes to the team in its own way. Each member must recognise their own limitations and recognise that there are people on the team who can do things better than themselves. People need to cover the bases they are good at and concede to others where they are better. Teams fail because of mismatched needs, unresolved conflict, personality clashes and lack of trust. All these can be addressed through understanding and recognising how each person in the team behaves and responds in different situations.
Improving the self-awareness of your managers and key people will create a strong platform of understanding from which more ambitious performance goals can be achieved. Highlighted below are 6 ways that you can begin to raise team performance:
1. Resist firefighting
When you start a turnaround process, there will be no shortage of people telling you what the problems are and how to fix them. But you need to form your own views, so immerse yourself in the culture of the department, watch it in action, spend time with managers, talk to people and sit in on team meetings. The problems of any failing department will involve people, processes and technology. While success depends on addressing all three, people are the most important and you need to ensure that all members of the turnaround team recognise this. Highly motivated and skilled people will make poor processes and IT work, but the best technology and processes available will still fail if people lack the appropriate skills or motivation.
2. Get the buy-in of all involved
You need to be open and honest with people to get their buy-in. Remember that no one understands a service like the people who actually deliver it. It’s not change agents, managers or consultants who turn things around, but the staff themselves. If you can engage most of them, you’ll have a powerful force for change. Try to win employees’ confidence by listening to their concerns, rather than coming in with a one-size-fits-all change methodology. Ensure any action plan you introduce takes account of concerns, as well as performance and service issues. Discuss the action plan with people in the department and monitor progress, ideally through staff opinion surveys. At this stage it is also a good idea to identify internal champions – people with a can-do attitude who will support you in driving through change.
3. Turn managers into leaders
You need to get the department’s management team on side. Retaining and developing existing managers sends out a positive message, whereas replacing them is risky, expensive and time-consuming. But resistant managers can subvert the change process and there are times when you must be prepared to make difficult decisions. Managers of failing departments need to accept some responsibility for the past and overcome their resentment at others being brought in to fix the problems. While it is important to learn from the past, you need to get them focused on the future and help them to develop new skills and regain confidence. Identify development needs and use external help where you need specific expertise. Managers can feel swamped by multiple reporting lines and targets and may need help in prioritising what’s important. You should also encourage new habits. Get them to leave their desks and offices to engage with the wider team. With a little support, the changes can be dramatic.
4. Empower managers
Failure fosters a blame culture where managers become fearful of making decisions. This does not make problems disappear. On the other hand, bad decisions, though best avoided, can be great learning experiences. Boost managers’ confidence by giving them a chance to test decisions before taking them. Some will only need a little support and encouragement; others may need help to recognise all the implications of a proposed course of action. Encourage courage: managers must learn to make difficult decisions and see them through. Once they have done so and recognise that they have done the right thing, their self-esteem will grow and they will start acting less like the managers of a failing department and more like their successful colleagues.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
You can’t communicate too much. Use different methods and tools to put out clear and consistent messages that relate back to the overall action plan. If you are part of a team, all members will have some responsibility for communication, but it is critical for you to retain a high-profile with your team. Face-to-face communication is best. You need to demonstrate that you are making an effort to meet people at times that are appropriate to them – for instance, by fitting in with shift workers rather than expecting them to stay after hours. Complement meetings with newsletters, team briefings, emails and via collaborative tools such as SharePoint or Yammer.
6. Celebrate success
A reputation for poor performance can become self-fulfilling. Other departments may have concealed their own failures by blaming yours. Talented people will not want to be associated with a department that is seen to be failing because of the risk to their careers. People can’t take too much failure. It is therefore important to break the cycle of bad news and give them something to celebrate. Publicise good news: the first praise in months from a happy client; another department saying “thank you”; a delivery ahead of schedule; or a real change in performance. You can create your own good news by introducing a person or team of the month award. Over time, as the situation improves, you’ll have much more to celebrate – and a department to be proud of.
I hope you have found this post useful and as always would love to hear any feedback or your experiences.