Interim Executive Resources

High Performance Series: Groups

There have been many studies of high performance and many models developed to describe the elements necessary to achieve high performance. In the prior article, one model was presented to describe critical requirements for high performance at the individual level. In this article, the model is extended to a discussion of group performance.

Four elements are required to achieve high performance – perspective, autonomy, connection, and tone. These elements are described and examples are given to enhance the description. The essence of this four element high performance model is that if any of these elements are missing or degraded, high performance won’t occur and identifying and eliminating gaps in these performance factors can lead to higher achievement.

Perspective – at a group level this factor describes the team’s understanding of how they fit into the company. Groups with good perspective will be aware of the corporate mission, vision and periodic objectives. They will understand organization policy and how it applies to their work area. They can translate external factors like the economy into local decisions that improve the group performance relative to groups that ignore broader issues. A group without broad perspective of their surroundings may make decisions and take actions that de-optimize company performance as a whole.

Autonomy – at a group level this factor describes the team’s ability to perform their particular role independently of other teams. A group with high autonomy understands expectations across all of their roles and connections and can motivate themselves to deliver on those expectations. If a team is the software development group for a R&D lab, they should have full capabilities to architect, design, develop, test and release software. If they do not have a good software development platform, they should drive to obtain one. If a group is not able to operate autonomously, they will always be awaiting direction from others and will not accomplish as much as groups that are self-starters.

Connectedness – at a group level this third factor describes the team’s understanding of who they are and how they fit with adjacent groups. People are social beings and therefore groups have a social need to relate to their environment and the groups they interact with on a regular basis. A good understanding of the group role is required to accomplish team goals. Using the software example again, an understanding that the software team is one of several product development teams within the R&D lab is required for them to deliver on expectations that contribute to high performance. They must have their particular deliverables in mind, but they may have to depend on other groups around them to deliver on their goals to achieve a higher level objective. They also need to shy away from role confusion, e.g. they are not the Sales organization and shouldn’t be setting customer expectations on their own.

Tone – at a group level this fourth performance factor describes team health and teamwork. Basically, if a team is healthy and can work well with the other groups around them, they accomplish their goals without excessive conflict, contribute effectively to higher order goals and can rise to their potential as an team. If a team is dysfunctional and not able to get its own work done or is unable to work together with other teams, then high performance is not achieved.

As the model goes, groups need to have perspective (we understand how our actions impact the world around us), autonomy (we know when and how to get things done), connectedness (our role and others roles), and tone (we work together well as a team and with the groups around us). With high scores in these factors, they have the ability to achieve at their maximum potential. The theory does not imply that when these elements are present, high performance is automatic. Just because a group is capable of a high level of contribution does not mean they will rise to that opportunity.

In fact, this high performance model at the group level is useful in identifying areas preventing the team from performing to their potential and can provide insights into what to do to improve performance. If a group is unhealthy, they cannot get to high performance, so grapple with the team health issue. If a group really does not understand their role and how they should relate to those around them, basic job definition and project management issues should be identified and improved. If a group cannot execute independently, work towards skill building and improved leadership. If a group doesn’t understand how the company or industry works, awareness building can lead to better decision making.

By understanding that there are four different elements that contribute to high performance, we can appreciate the complexity of improving groups to be able to contribute at their highest potentials. This model can be used to build improvement plans for teams to help them operate at their highest level.

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