Game-changer: Taking your team where few tread...

Full disclosure…I don’t like doing hard work for the sake of hard work. Especially when it involves doing the same thing over and over (aka the definition of insanity!). Accordingly, when it comes to my client work and even administrative activities within my business, I am constantly on the lookout for game-changers. Game-changer  noun   /ˈɡeɪmˌtʃeindʒr/  Something that radically changes a situation.

Technology is full of game-changers. Look at what the PC was to the typewriter. Or the CD to LP records, and then the MP3 to CD’s. All are game-changers than have radically changed the rules to the game.

The question that comes to mind then is what is the game-changer for your business? As business owners, we are always keen for the next new tool or gadget that increases productivity or reduces cost. But how often do we look for the game-changers that exist within our business right now? I contend there is game-changer lurking in your business that most of you have not fully recognized or leveraged. It lies with your team.

I observe many teams in action and I am continually amazed at the raw potential that lay un-tapped because most companies are infected with SOS (shiny object syndrome). With SOS, companies continue to invest in the latest tools, machines, and whizbangs to increase profitability, all the while ignoring the proverbial low hanging fruit right in front of them—the performance of the team. The real irony here is most new technology fails to deliver because of the team. Don’t get me wrong here. Good tools for the business are important, however often they come at the cost of ignoring the opportunities with the team.

Now, before you question too harshly the effectiveness of yours, let me also be clear that the performance of the team is directly attributed to the effectiveness of the team’s leader. The results the teams are achieving, good, bad or indifferent, are symptomatic of the leadership, not soley the team. Ultimately, to leverage the potential of the team it requires a healthy introspection by the leader in terms of what they are, or are not doing to challenge for higher performance, and then doing something about it. In reality, it is not easy, hence why the shiny-object-syndrome is more often the path of least resistance.

While the scenarios we encounter are widely diverse, there are repeated themes in leadership and teams. Following are some of the common symptoms of team performance in organizations, along with their underlying root causes:

Type 1 – “Fails the bus test”: Symptoms include high turnover and repeated quality and delivery problems. When asked, “how does your role support the mission?” the employees frequently answer, “what mission?” Root cause – Command-and-control micro-managing leadership.

Type 2 – “Unguided missiles”: Symptoms include departments operating in silos. Turf wars and infighting among personalities are the norm. Performance is capable, yet unpredictable. Root cause – Overly passive/checked-out leadership.

Type 3 – “Contenders”: Symptoms include high frustration by top performers doing the majority of the work while underperformance by others is perpetually tolerated. Little accountability among each other and time is wasted through repeated triangulated conversations. Root cause – Leadership has a Messiah complex—they think they can save anyone.

Type 4 – “Game-changers”: Symptoms include open and honest team conversations about their performance and who needs help, exhibits true collaboration (willingness to give up turf for the sake of the objective), and assumes team responsibility for helping those who are struggling while willing to call it out. Root cause – Leader has struck a balance between challenging the team for best performance while expecting no less than shared ownership for each other’s contribution.

While the remedies for the first three categories are different for each, the common thread is making the investment in your team a strategic priority. It begins with ensuring the right people are “on the bus” (right people as in hiring for fit rather than just skills), and then providing them the leadership that challenges the team to operate at a game-changing level. This my friends, is the true game-changer for your business and in the long run, will produce as high a return as that fancy new whizbang you eyed at the last trade show.