How to Be a High Performing Team How you can help your team work together better

AdviceSheet is a 360-feedback software provider. 360-feedback reviews on their own are not a cure for anything, but they are part of a suite of tools you can use at any stage of a team’s development that will lead to your team performing better.

Image: Yan Krukov, Pexels
The role of a manager can be challenging. Managing a team of people isn’t just about delegating tasks, it involves motivating your team and keeping them working well together as efficiently as possible.

If you are a good manager you’ll help your team members to thrive individually and as a group. That’s not always easy. Your team consists of diverse individuals with differing strengths, weaknesses, ideas and communication styles. It’s inevitable that they’ll squabble and argue from time to time.

In fact, research shows that 60-80% of all difficulties in organisations come from strained relationships between employees, not from failings in an individual’s skill or motivation.

And the typical manager spends 25-40% of their time dealing with workplace conflicts. That’s one to two days of every work week.
[Washington Business Journal, May 2005.]

If you're wondering how to better support your team, smooth out conflict, and deal with the issues they're facing collectively then you might need to think about how to help them develop as a group and as individuals (spoiler alert: 360-degree feedback is one tool that can help with this).

There's lots of research into the way teams develop, including Tuckman’s well-known stages of team development - the forming storming, norming, and performing model. There are other models, such as by Agazarian and Wheelan that have similar stages but use different names. You may also have heard of Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

What all the models agree on is that there are some definite phases to team development.

One of the key phases is at the beginning when people join or form a group or team. At first they don't really know how they're supposed to be. The essence of this was captured by former MIT professor, Edgar Schein, who said that everyone shares the same fundamental questions in any new group situation:
  • Who am I in this group? (ie what’s my identity here?)
  • How much control/influence will I have? 
  • Will my needs be met? (ie am I going to be heard? Am I leading or following? Am I going to be able to address the things that I want?) 
  • What will the levels of intimacy be?  (ie is it gonna be very formal? Am I going to be able to explain how I feel? How much of myself am I allowed to reveal?) 

In this team forming stage, everyone starts off by being polite, by being careful about what they say, and doing all the things that our society has taught us are the ways not to offend, and to rub along. We're very good at that. In that space, it's not good manners to talk about how you feel, it's not good manners to disagree with one another. It's not good manners to challenge, because it can be seen as disrespectful, because you just don't know each other well enough yet. 

However what the models also recognise is that unless you can get past this ‘good manners’ stage, and actually invite disharmony, disagreement and conflict into the group (we don't mean physical conflict) - for example by being able to say that you’re not happy with the way things are going - it's very hard for a team to really gel and move forward. 

So in fact, healthy conflict is a good thing.

This is because people tend to bottle up the small things that are bugging them, and don't articulate that they're feeling frustrated or that their needs are not being met. 

So if you pay lip service to what is being discussed and agreed, and are polite instead of being honest, you won’t really be able to commit to the group and the work it’s trying to do.

If you carry on doing this, after a while you will probably stop showing up - literally or figuratively. You might say that you’re too busy, or you might lose interest - but in reality it’s to do with not getting your needs met.

So if as a manager or team lead you can start exploring what people are feeling - by bringing healthy conflict in, safely - and get comfortable with that, then you will understand each other’s edges and each other's needs, and everybody can feel heard, and then you can start to be yourselves a bit more in that team. 

And if you can do that, you can start committing to a shared endeavour. 


A real example

A working group was formed at a large organisation to develop a project that tackled a specific issue with their culture, and then prototype it. At the end of one of the first meetings, someone expressed a pessimistic view about the potential of the project the group had decided on. They added, “I was thinking of lying, but I didn't.” Thank goodness they didn't otherwise we'd continue the charade and that would mean making no progress until they likely got bored and stopped showing up!


Shifting your team into high performance

The forming and storming stages of team development (these stages include both fight (arguing) or good manners (flight)), can however be quite hard to shift out of. There are things in organisations and within teams that affect this: formal and informal power, deference to hierarchy or status, or perhaps bad behaviour - we've all met grumpy people who you have to walk carefully around - are all reasons why you might stay stuck in a stage, and you can't get beyond it into starting to really build deeper connections with people and feel able to work with them. 

As a manager, one of the things that you can do is to make sure that in your time together in meetings that you properly include people so that everybody is able to share and be heard. 

Also bringing in people's needs and feelings into conversations and not glossing over them. Because feelings go really deep - take a look at the iceberg model - if you just focus on task and process, you won’t be acknowledging what's going on underneath, the hidden things that affect people’s commitment to the work. And you won’t build trust. 
The Iceberg Model
As a manager, a further way to build trust is to invest time in people and show an interest in them. These three important questions should be clear for you:
  • What's expected of this person?
  • How are they doing?
  • Where are they heading? 
That’s about committing to your team, it's about being clear about expectations, it's about being robust in your feedback, in a constructive and helpful, supportive way.


How 360-degree feedback fits in

One of the reasons that a 360-feedback review is useful in this process of developing a team is because it creates a neutral and a safe space for people to articulate what they might not be able to say in person about what their experiences are, without exposing themselves in a dangerous way, for example, when there are power dynamics at work. 

In addition, 360s’ are designed to invite constructive feedback through the way the questions are written and to be balanced: they’re an opportunity to talk about strengths as well as weaknesses and to feel valued and appreciated. Knowing that you are valued makes it easier to hear about things you could improve.

From a subject's point of view, it gives you multiple perspectives. You very quickly discover that there isn't a single truth about you, that people experience you differently. And that gives you choices. 

Very importantly, willing to be the subject of a 360 sends a signal out to everybody else that you're up for listening, that you're up for learning, that you're up for adapting and improving. And that you're not frightened of looking at this stuff. 

For example, for a manager, bringing your team on board by modelling being the subject of a 360 yourself makes it okay for other people to think about getting better and ask permission for feedback. That's really important

As a manager, if you ask for input on yourself, it makes it okay for you to say to a team member, “could I give you a bit of feedback?... I've noticed you've been doing these things. And I wonder whether I should be clear about my expectations with you? Because I'm not quite seeing what I thought I'd see in this area. What I would really like to see is this, this and this. You're almost there, but not quite. And if you did X, Y, and Z, I think you'd be there, which would be great. Particularly considering what you want to do next.”


What happens after a 360  

Once 360-degree feedback is in, those tasked with the coaching will have a confidential conversation with each subject. If the 360 has been run with the whole team, everybody will have participated in the process. They'll have got things off their chest, and been able to share them - privately and individually - in a neutral space. 

Afterwards everybody re-enters the team space with a slightly altered perspective, often with greater confidence because they've had their strengths articulated to them. And that empowers them to contribute more fully. 

They may for example have had a bit of their impostor syndrome chipped away, so they feel more confident.  

Occasionally people feel a bit bruised because they've heard some things for the first time and understood that they might be causing harm or discomfort for colleagues in ways they may not have realised. 

That's really hard. But it gives them the opportunity to modify their behaviour. It gives them an opportunity to apologise for it. And to invite ongoing feedback and be more inclusive of people.

Where there are bumps in a group, it is really important to be able to bring those things out. 

Putting a whole team through a 360 review will by no means definitely solve a team's problems, but it certainly equips a team to be better able to deal collectively with the issues they're facing, by giving the individuals in the group a clearer understanding of what's going on, and giving them increased confidence in their work and being able to talk more honestly with colleagues.


Our 360 degree reviews

A 360 degree feedback review can be a useful part of a feedback culture. If you’re looking for good 360 review software that supports the growth of your employees and your organisation, and removes the complicated admin that can accompany 360’s, use a tool like AdviceSheet, it is really that simple. Read more guides here.