Performance Pointer

From the Penumbra Group - Your Complete Resource for

Talent Management Solutions
April 2008
In This Issue - Anatomy of a High Performance Team
The Trivialized "team"
The 3 Ps of Peak Team Performance
Quick Links
Join Our Mailing List 

"Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."


- Henry Ford


People and performance. Two deeply complicated matters.  Blend them together and you've got the never boring challenge of team dynamics.  Working alongside one another and functioning as a team are two very different things. 


And contrary to common assumption, it's not always a matter of pride, control, or clashing personalities.  Sometimes a failure to launch as a team is merely a matter of not knowing how - or even knowing that there is a "how".


It is easy to wonder why we haven't mastered being successful in a team when we've been immersed in social groups since early childhood.  Much of our difficulty can be explained by an oversimplified perception.  The concept of working as a team has been so trivialized, most people never realize that there actually is a science and skill set involved. 


The notion of being a "team player" has become universally accepted at face value without question as to what truly defines a team or its members.  The definition has somehow become assumed, a one-size-fits-all word.  You see it tossed out in job ads, job descriptions and performance reviews, clearly an important aspect of workplace life yet largely unexamined.    


This one-size-fits-all team mindset seems to be rooted in the hope that clear task assignments, mutual goals, and shared deadlines are enough to ignite synergy and generate collaborative results.  The reality is, it takes a lot more than pep talks, perpetual meetings,and physical proximity to transform a group of individual contributors into a cohesive unit. 


Leaders often learn the hard way that there is a significant difference between simply forming a team by putting people to work alongside one another, charged with the same objective, and actually creating the performance results characteristic of true teamwork. 


In this month's Performance Pointer we'll review the 3 critical performance factors of today's most successful teams and ways to assess your own team's effectiveness.

What Is a Team Really?

According to Katzenbach and Smith in their book, The Wisdom of Teams, a team is defined as "a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and a defined approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable". 


Many times a work group is mistaken for a team.  The difference is significant.  A work group produces individual activity geared toward a common goal.  A team achieves collective results toward a common goal.  The litmus test of a team is their ability to plan, create, solve, and execute as subteams and as a complete unit.


What Makes a Team Sink or Soar?


Studies show that in every high performing team there are critical performance factors that directly influence phenomenal results.  In addition to strong leadership, three components necessary for winning teams are Purpose, Process, and Performance. 



This is NOT the same as the broader company mission statement.  Teams who attempt to produce results under the umbrella of an overused, undefined purpose (such as your standard values and mission statement) quickly lose direction, fragment into different agendas, and the end results are diluted at best. 


When goals are clear, team discussions are focused.  When they are unclear, discussions are often unproductive and circular.  Studies show that teams that fail rarely developed a common purpose before embarking on their goals.


While management plays an integral part in helping teams frame their purpose, a sense of team identity cannot be formed from the outside in.  By presenting them with a challenge, demand or opportunity, leaders jump start the team by setting initial direction and performance expectations and is mindful of the tendency to drift. 


But a team cannot stop there.  Together they must formulate a detailed vision of how, when, and what they will collectively achieve for them to truly take ownership of the goal.

To assess Purpose in your team:
  • Does your team share a common commitment based on a meaningful purpose that belongs to them, both collectively and individually?  Is this purpose specific enough so that each member is able to verbalize it?
  • Has the team moved beyond superficial "missions" and well meaning intentions to create concrete objectives which tie directly to their purpose?
  • Do they maintain a clear understanding of the purpose behind every meeting or team interaction?
  • Have they candidly explored the capabilities of each team member and clearly defined roles and responsibilities?  Do they capitalize on the unique skills, knowledge, experience, and individual differences of each team member?
A team understands the importance of how things are accomplished just as much as what is accomplished.  This is what keeps people respectful of each other, openly communicating, and not engaging in repetitive work.
The "how" is just as much part of the team's purpose as the "what" they produce.  Groups that don't operate this way often deal with hurt feelings, miscommunication, inequity in workload, and missed deadlines. 
Groups that have a pre-set, mutually agreed upon system for handling hurdles both work product related and relationship related, are able to identify and solve issues internally and collaboratively. 

    To assess Process in your team:

  • Have they clearly defined team norms and ground rules which guide the team's behavior?
  • Do they communicate openly in a supportive, yet candid, manner? Is conflict viewed as a positive fuel for innovation and managed appropriately?
  • Have they developed a common approach and decision making model? Is there agreement on the who, what, why, and how of getting things accomplished?
  • Do they use consistent, yet flexible team operating procedures for information exchange, problem solving and keeping meetings on track?
  • Does your team contain the right members with a mix of skills that include technical and functional expertise, problem solving, decision making, and interpersonal skills?
The greatest secret to team success is having specific, measurable goals that keep people on track and informed of their progress. A team is only as good as its combined results. Members understand that they each play a supporting role to one another and take an active interest inseeing that each part of the team gets what they need to succeed.
The most successful teams continually evaluate their effectiveness and collectively solve issues as they arise. Stalled teams measure themselves on how busy they are, on how many meetings they have, and how many tasks have been created.
High performance teams measure themselves on the productivity of the time spent and the real results their efforts produce.
To assess Peformance in your team:
  • Has their common purpose been translated into specific, measurable performance goals (such as improving market share by 15% or to improve first customer call resolution by 20%)?
  • Does your team focus on setting and achieving "small wins" as it pursues a broader goal?
  • Do they recognize and reward accomplishments commensurate with results / effort?
  • Does every member of the team do equitable amounts of real work that contribute to the team's overall work-product, including the team leader?
  • Does your team hold itself mutually accountable as a team? Do they regularly evaluate their own performance?

If your team is producing less than optimal results, chances are you'll find your issue lies somewhere within the 3 Ps. 


It is important to first spend some time assessing the team from a leadership perspective and identifying what you think is missing.  Then schedule a team huddle to review the 3 Ps and get their take on what needs fixing.  Guide them and reinforce accountability to the process, then let them run with it.


It is easy to let deadlines keep you from making this a priority, but until you do, the team's work product will suffer until the proper foundation is built and the team is on track.  The bottom line performance results will only be as good as the inner workings and the "soul" of the team


Stay tuned for next month's Performance Pointer when we will share tips for achieving team goals and ways to maintain high team effectiveness even amidst conflict. 



What you've just read is a small sampling of what is included in Penumbra's High Performance Teams workshop.  If you'd like to bring this powerful, customized program to your workplace, please contact us at 

All the best,

Jennifer Shirkani and Faith Csikesz
Penumbra Group Inc.