‘The people who are the ultimate arbiters of a team’s results are those who are utilising that product or service’

February 6, 2023

This month, Jim Link, chief human resources officer for the Society for Human Resources Management, discusses which tools – digital and offline – to utilise in assessing senior leadership teams…

If you were asked whether a team was high-performing or not, how would you know?

There are several ways you would identify that. At SHRM, we use a toolkit so that when we ask that question, we approach it both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The team has goals and outcomes that it’s supposed to deliver within specific timeframes – that would be some of the quantifiable pieces I would look at. Then from a qualitative perspective, are they performing at a rate that’s better than they would if they were a collection of individuals?

We, as Americans, believe in the ‘Shame and Fame’ wall. So if there are ten teams operating in a system, then we would use metrics and other numbers to determine how they were performing against each other. We would help build this competitive spirit to drive performance because no one wants to be on the bottom of a Shame and Fame wall. They want to be on top.

How can teams’ performance be measured and which person is the best placed to comment on whether a team is high-performing?

It depends on the outcome that the group or the organization is seeking. For example, if you are in a manufacturing facility and your team is producing a good product or a service then the outcome is what you want.

Most teams today are continuing to focus on what I call input measures. Those are very specific, targeted, almost individualised tasks that each member of the team is required to deliver in order to accomplish the overall team objectives. Those things are, in a manufacturing environment, things like productivity, quality, error rate, safety, and attendance.

The people who are the ultimate arbiter of those results are the people who are utilising that good product or service. It’s not even the plant manager or the business. It’s really the end user of that product.

Where there’s room for improvement, what would you need to do to make a team high-performing, once you’ve gathered these metrics and the feedback from the customers?

This is where the assessment component piece comes in, for me, pretty heavily. The very best teams, whether they be from manufacturing and logistics centres or doing massive merger and acquisition work, are assessed for their high-performing capabilities.

There are a variety of tools and resources out there to help you assess team performance. Those assessments often give you glimpses into where there are capacity or capability gaps or that up-skilling, new skilling or reskilling would provide an additional lift to the team.

They can even identify some of the softer science things like conflict and persuasion and negotiation and some of those things that can sometimes be masked or hidden if a team otherwise has good productive outcomes on the quantifiable side.

Where organizations are conducting offsite team assessment sessions, should these sessions incorporate:

  • 360 behavioural profiles of each individual which are then shared with the rest of the team to help everyone understand the behavioural traits of each person?

It depends on the culture of the organization and the team, but generally those types of things are a good idea.

I’ve found that is you start by saying that the outcomes will shared then this limits the really constructive feedback that’s provided to individuals. So I usually try to summarise or aggregate data in such a way that it has a layer of anonymity to it.

When you do that, people give you more robust answers on what goes right and what goes wrong in those organizations. They’ll be more likely to identify bad behaviour in those team structures.

So yes, you should do them, and yes, you should do it in such a way that you get the most robust outcomes from that. That’s generally achieved by guaranteeing some degree of anonymity.

  • Measuring the sentiment of each team member as to how they feel the team as a unit is functioning (measuring psychological safety, conflict management, etc.)?

Absolutely, and I actually prefer not just questions of opinion like that, but there are tools out there that focus specifically on enhancing team performance.

With those tools, which are tested with huge data sets, you get the predictive validity so when somebody scores low or high in one of those results areas, there’s a pretty good chance that those assessments are right.

The dirty little secret that most of us in the human resources world believe is that these assessments, whichever one you use, are incredibly good predictors of the negative components of a person’s capability, of their behavioural profile, or of their competencies. If the assessment says that a person is poor in one of its categories, you can take that to the bank.

On the contrary, if those assessment results come back and it’s indicating that someone is strong in a category, that doesn’t have a higher degree of validation because there are so many other circumstances that can dilute strong performance or strong outcomes.

  • Measuring (in advance of any off-site session) how other teams within the organization (and perhaps outside, like major clients or shareholders) think the executive leadership team are doing?

Yes, absolutely. That goes back to the point, you know, about the shame and fame board.

That works for the British culture too. There is absolutely a culture in a lot of organizations, particularly in the western world, where that competitive spirit produces better outcomes.

Where teams have that sense of pride and competition and an outcome orientation, particularly if they’re well led, if there’s a great team leader and the expectations of that group are very well known – those are the crucial elements for establishing the opportunity for success. No doubt about it. No matter what.

That clarity of outcome overrides almost every other circumstance you could bump into demographically or otherwise. It doesn’t matter if it’s teams of all men, all women, mixed people of all backgrounds, young and old. You get better results if there’s a clearly communicated goal and outcome and encouragement that the group is in competition with others to be better.