Nurturing high performance teams

Nothing beats an orchestra in terms of the complexity of working together and sheer beauty of the end result

In order to make this a 4D post, please play at the back Beethoven Concert for Piano and Orchestra nr. 5 in E flat major. There is still scope for a great soloist inside a well performing team.

In business just like in life you need to decide what type of person/manager you want to be.
After years of observation of very different human types, personality traits and cultural approaches to management in several different countries, organisations and contexts let me oversimplify it and boil down to two approaches.
But first things first.
There is nothing and I will repeat this NOTHING you can accomplish in business on your own.
You need people around you.

Abraracourcix: and example of an effective and well supported leader

You need people who buy in your vision and help you make it real.
And – again – there are basically two things you can do with your life.
Develop and realise your vision or work to make someone else’s real.
There is no in between.
You are either creating your own objectives or are working to make someone else’s achievable.
The only one standing exception is business partners, who are effectively doing the two things at the same time.
There is no right or wrong.
Some people are more comfortable making things happen – I am afraid I fall in this instance – and other people love it to make someone else’s vision real.
They need certainty.
They need predictability.
They would hate be in another spot and love to be guided.
Once we have got this important premise off the table let’s go back to our initial conundrum: how to build effective teams.

Predictable or unpredictable? Make up your mind!

As a manager you need to accomplish something.
Being the former either starting a new company – my favourite – or helping a company succeed – the job of corporate managers – or helping those driving the success of a company – consultants, the trainers of the players.
Consultants thus do not just sport 1 but 2 degrees of separation from making things happen, yet they are super important nonetheless for many orders of reasons. My present job, btw.
Let’s visualise our given objective as crossing the stereotypical river.
The two categories of managers I referred to in the opening are the instrumental manager and the inspiring/servant manager.

If only your stones could talk!

An instrumental manager is a manager who uses his/her people to accomplish his/her own objectives.
The image here is treating people like stones, dropping them in the river, and stepping on one stone at the time to cross the river.
Alas, once a stone is dropped in the water unfortunately there is no way to recover it.
You can at times make it to the other side – sometimes and if you don’t run short of stones along the way.
Yet you are surely left alone and there are no people to embrace and to celebrate your victory with once you eventually get to other side.
Again oversimplifying this is how I would guesstimate 80% of the managers probably approach their role.

Delivering your vision: speaker’s corner London

The rest of the lot there are the inspirers, the visionaries.
Those who can allure people and are caring enough to make sure to have their team pursue the objective in their own interest, loosely supervised, cooperating and possibly having fun along the way.
The image here is a small boat, with a cask of sangria at the back. Because fun is an important element of our lives and we only get to live once.
Yes we need to do something dull.
Yes I am your manager and I will show you the way and take responsibility.
But yes I do care for you, your professional growth and we are all in the same boat by the way, so my success is your success.
And by virtue of learning to be a good crew member one day – a soon as possible – you will graduate to lead your own boat.

A high performance team out there on the market pitched against competition

Unfortunately this approach is shared by a sheer minority of managers, women more often than men.
Let me add a twist to this rather complex and unforgiving scenario.
The Z-gen and the “Great Resignation”, having being forerunner of the latter movement, unfortunately not belonging – for my own misfortune – to the former group.
Z-gen requires special attention to perform.
Z-gen will take no BS.
They are often the smart creatives as Google would dub them and will take no prisoners when they are good. They know their worth, they know there is no lifetime job anymore.
They have had a much harder time landing that job compared to Ys, super much harder compared to Xs and an order of magnitude harder compared to baby boomers.
Mixing traditionally-minded boomers and Z-Gens is like mixing nitro-Gen and glycerine.
Often a recipe for disaster.

The servant leader

Z-gen are much more risk prone than previous generations.
It’s been hard for them, they are disillusioned and once they land that job they are more prone to do a day by day comparison of the gives and the gets and to reassess continuously their positioning and take action if it’s not delivering on promise.
How to best manage the Z-Gen?

The Z-Gen at work

The Z-gen requires the inverse pyramid approach, the service leader.
My favourite approach to management not just for this age group, but for by far for any age group or team actually.
The image here is Jesus washing St. Peters feet on Good Friday, excusing myself for the very culturally narrow reference.
You need to be humble.
You need to be caring.
Truly caring, as people have a sixth sense to spot the pretenders.
You need to make sure they have what they need to perform.
And this is something different for every and each of your team members.
Luckily we are very different human beings, and each and every one of us has different needs at the top step of Maslow hierarchy pyramid.

One thing you shall not forget is that the supportive manager approach requires a lot of time.
You need time to build trust.
You need time to get to know the team.
You need time to support each of them.
You need time to support – for real – their professional development.
I will advise you to spend no less than 80% of your time on this activity.
If you find that in your job and role your time allotment to the team is any different and fewer, you are performing below par as a manager.
This can work for some time but will not work for a long time as it will fire back.
Not a possibility. A simple certainty.
It won’t be you rather your team the one to achieve your objectives.
You will do nothing alone.

Value, value and there again values

And here is where fairness comes into play.
As we haven’t talked values so far but values are always part of the equation.
If your team is not led by a person that is perceived to be fair, just, caring and effective they will leave. Just observe nature.
Packs of wolves behave like that.
Any other animal pride works like that.
It would be counter-beneficial for the individual to stay in a social relationship that is not providing for his basic needs.
They will eventually try to topple or substitute the leader or disavow him/her and leave.
Thus my fundamental advice to present day managers is: don’t be ASSHOLES.

Praying your team won’t quit on you

For two reasons.
It’s not good on your resume – people will know – and it’s not productive.
Besides probably not being the best image of yourself you would like to convey.
There are exceptions and we know them well, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and many other silicon valley top achievers.
But in order to be able to afford prima donna behaviours you need to first ask yourself and give an honest answer to whether or not you are indeed a prima donna.
Because people will tolerate a prima donna behaviour in a prima donna.
But take that prima donna performance out and all you are just left is a plain and simple asshole.
And that type of recognition believe me will not take you very far in life.
All of the above incidentally applies super well to relationships among equal weight partners in business.