Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

High-Performing Teams: a Few Good People (Part 3/3)

This is the third and final part in my series on high-performing teams. The first article talked about the critical conditions necessary to create such teams, and the second discussed leading and motivating them.

Even though Google’s Project Aristotle found that the people on high-performing teams were less important than how they work together, anyone who has been part of a team knows the wrong team members can send things south in a hurry!

What’s more, the definition of the “right people” is a broad and changing thing. It’s shaped in part by who is already on the team and the gaps that remain. Creating the team is like building a puzzle made up of differently shaped pieces. As you put more in, it becomes apparent what is missing.

Finding the Right People

Attracting the right people is about more than skills, attitude and organizational culture. Diversity enriches teams and increases their success. There was a time when the diversity efforts in North America were focussed only on women and visible minorities. To realize the true benefits, we need to consider diversity of many types: gender, race, age, ethnicity, culture and socio-economic background.

More and more studies are demonstrating the benefits of a diverse team. McKinsey’s 2015 report Diversity Matters, based on the study of 366 public companies, demonstrated the value of diversity of ethnicity, race and gender.

Among their conclusions are these quotes:

  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).
  • The unequal performance of companies in the same industry and the same country implies that diversity is a competitive differentiator shifting market share toward more diverse companies.

(source: Hunt, Layton and Prince, WhyDiversity Matters (McKinsey & Company, 2015)

Companies that attract a truly diverse group of people – creating diverse teams – achieve better results! While we are inclined to hire others like ourselves, it makes sense that we achieve more impact when different perspectives and approaches are combined.

Star Wars version: If you have a clone army, you may be able to do more; but if you have a diversity of great minds like the Jedi council, you are able to do the right things.

What does this mean for the way you recruit?

In the job description, go beyond the usual list of duties, qualifications and description of the organization. Consider including:

  • How this team and organization works – giving life to the values
  • What makes this role so important to the team – showing how it’s important and the specific gaps you want to fill
  • Encouragement for those of different backgrounds – it shows you are both an inclusive employer and a welcoming one

Then you need to ensure that bias toward more of the same (think middle-aged white man) is removed from the hiring process. Part of the solution? Including diverse people from the organization in the hiring process. Having the other team members participate in one of the interviews is also a great way to test the potential dynamics and work toward integration before you even hire.

Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. ~ Stephen R. Covey

Integrating into the Team

Once you find the right people, your next important task is bringing them into the organization and team. This is much more than an introductory walk-around and office buddy.

Proper orientation or onboarding has been shown to:

  • Attract and retain talent – it builds your brand as an employer
  • Reduce turn-over (see this 2012 study)
  • Improve productivity
  • Enhance employee engagement
  • Encourage better communication

You only get one chance for a first impression

Imagine this. You arrive for your first day with a new employer. You’re excited, a little anxious and eager to learn more. Now, it could go a couple of ways.

One: The person greeting you – not sure of their role or relationship to your new job – hands you a stack of reading material on the organization and HR forms to fill out. You are put in a cubicle, although it’s uncertain if it will be your new office. You dive in, expecting to see the hiring manager soon. The next time you hear from anyone is at the end of the day.

How would you feel about your decision to take the job? About the employer? Your direct supervisor? The team?

Two: Your new manager meets you, gives you a quick tour, and takes you to coffee to discuss what the team does and why – maybe even with a few teammates. That’s followed with a brief tour of the operation – not just the office, bathroom and lunchroom. After some one-on-one time, the manager brings you to HR for their part of the orientation and to fill out forms. Then you get some information to read, a team member to be your go-to with questions and are given a little time to yourself to digest things.

How would you feel about your decision to take the job? About the employer? Your direct supervisor? The team?

The first 90 days are especially critical to creating relationships with coworkers, management and the organization. Additionally, research shows that new employees are at the greatest risk for leaving in the first 18 months.

What does that mean for your integration approach?

I’ve used the word integration, because an effective approach includes orientation, team building and training.

Option number two above is a good start. However, to be truly effective, you need to plan for before and after the first day. The before step includes preparing for their arrival and announcing it so people they meet can help welcome them. The after step includes setting expectations and getting them involved in the team’s work in a way that sets the tone.

In the end, be guided by this thought: Begin as you mean to continue.

If you want to talk about engaging with employees, improving communication or team building, please reach out. It’s important to your success and I’d love to help.