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Bring out the Best in Your Team

Excerpt from Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

Getting the best performance from teams is the subject of countless leadership books. It can be a complex subject, but I suggest you start first with creating a space for success.

Dare-to-Serve Leaders create work environments that bring out the best in their people. If you have an underperforming team, the easy thing to do is to say “I need new people.”  Frankly, that is what most leaders do – fire the people you have and go get new ones.

If you ask the people what constrains their performance, it is usually not skills – it is the work environment established by the leader.  The work environment can inspire boldness, innovation, and excellence.  Or, it can strangle the capability and productivity of the people and the team.

This is the work of the leader.  To create a work environment that yields superior results.

After determining the vital few, hard things that needed to be fixed at Popeyes, the leadership team held an offsite retreat with our leaders. The purpose of this meeting was to build more effective teamwork across the departments of the company.

We played a ‘game’ facilitated by a consultant to teach us how teamwork drives performance.  It was a production line exercise in which groups would compete to assemble and decorate an origami paper star called a Starship.

There were three teams competing in the exercise. Team 2 was particularly inept at this game, and after three rounds of competition had not produced one single Starship that passed Quality Assurance inspection. They asked for a 15-minute huddle to re-organize their approach to the game. At this point, Teams 1 and 3 were laughing at the dysfunction of Team 2.

When Team 2 returned, their next round of production generated 36 Starships and 100% passed Quality Assurance inspection.  This was more than twice the number of Starships produced by either of the two other teams.  The room was stunned at the change in Team 2 performance.  Curiosity replaced laughter.

We asked Team 2 to explain what changed the trajectory of their performance.  How did they go from laughable to laudable results?  They said:

“In the first rounds, we just put everyone to a job and basically said, go fast.  Then we saw that we had multiple breakdowns. Bottlenecks caused by skill gaps and poor processes.  We had people folding paper that couldn’t fold paper.  We had people coloring Starships who couldn’t color.  We had people on the sidelines watching but not contributing.  We had high achievers cheering, but not helping. We were dysfunctional.”

“What did you do in the 15-minute break?” I asked.

“We asked people what position they thought they were best suited to – and then we placed them in that job.  We had the process people re-engineer our process.  We had the artistic people color.  We had people who folded paper best, fold the paper.  We had enthusiastic coaches be enthusiastic coaches.  We had timekeepers keep track of time.  We encouraged one another and set a bold goal of beating the other two teams.  Then we came back to the room and did our best work yet.”

The Starship exercise revealed some remarkably simple lessons in leading high-performance teams:

  • Find out the strengths of each team member and assign them a role that uses their strengths
  • Determine the skill gaps on the team and add that capability to the team
  • Respect different talents in the team; everyone has something to contribute
  • Create both the processes and the environment for success
  • The leader can’t create winning results on their own – the team creates the win

As the saying goes, this team “focused on what they could control.”  Once they created an environment where people could perform to their strengths, success followed.

While this exercise was fun, it also offered some deep learning and produced a cadre of new, high performing leaders and generated more opportunities for our leaders to contribute and grow in capability.

This better working environment stimulated people to grow and contribute their best work.  It led to a new level of performance.

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