How do we improve team performance?
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How do we improve team performance?

When I consider team performance it is easy for me to identify the teams that I have been a part of and managed that were high performing and it’s equally as easy to identify low performing teams. So what are the differences between the two? And what can we do as managers to ensure our teams perform to their highest abilities?

High performing teams:

Within the high performing team that I was a part of, there was a real sense of team spirit. We were all aiming for the same goal. We were all equal in our rights especially in terms of expertise and knowledge. There was a real respect for each other. There was trust in the parts and roles that we each played within the team.

We all had a certain level of responsibility and authority. Our leader did not micro manage us preferring to leave us to complete our duties. We could broaden our job roles, and accept development opportunities to progress. Management had a real interest in ensuring that our future was facilitated. When it came to key decisions, the manager involved the whole team. Between us, we were able to problem solve and improve our services. Our manager set challenging goals and when we achieved those goals they recognised us in ways that appealed to us individually. They included an informal “well done”, a bottle of wine or winning key organisational awards.

In essence, our leader was our biggest advocate. The leader promoted and communicated about the team at every opportunity.The team greatly appreciated this. So much so, that we would deliver anything and everything that was asked of us, so that the manager was not let down.

Low performing teams:

In my observations of these types of teams, there are a number of aspects to be aware of. Within these teams you may find a real lack of communication and a “work to rule” mentality. You may find staff only being interested in their own job role and lack care or understanding for the wider team. Within these teams there may be a lack of direction and either no ambition to progress. It could also be frustration in not being able to progress. These teams are likely to have managers that sit on either end of the management spectrum. Either, they don’t care and are never seen, or they micro manage and control every aspect of the team.

This lack of care and trust is apparent in the managers’ behaviour and translates into the behaviour of the team. There is likely to be a culture of blame and creating audit trails. Opposed to one of continuous improvement and learning from mistakes. Within this type of team, the threat of punishment or job instability is more prevalent than valuing people and recognising the attributes they have. These teams are not really a team but more a group of people working in the same facility.

What can we do?

As managers and leaders we have a responsibility to ensure that our teams work at their peak. Their performance is a reflection on our managerial ability. Therefore it makes sense to learn from those experts who have studied performance. Some can provide insight in to what we should dedicate our attention on. The theorist I want to focus on for this blog is Frederick Herzberg (1959). He studied how certain aspects of our work can satisfy us and certain aspects can dissatisfy us. What is interesting, is that these aren’t necessarily the opposite of each other.

Two Factor Theory

Herzberg’s theory or the “Two Factor Theory”,  includes Hygiene factors and Motivators. The Hygiene factors are those aspects of work that cause us dissatisfaction but, even if resolved will not motivate us just prevent dissatisfaction, any sense of satisfaction here is temporary and very short-lived. These factors are things like working conditions, relationships with peers, job security,  company policy and even money – in essence these factors are to do with the job environment.

So, if we take money as an example, even now organisations believe that money is a key motivator and whilst it is pleasurable to achieve a pay-rise or bonus – this pleasure is short-lived. What is the key motivator here, is the sense of achievement and recognition of achieving the goal that provided the pay-rise or bonus.


The second factor in Herzberg’s “Two Factor Theory” includes Motivators. These factors are to do with the job itself, rather than the job environment, and include such things as recognition, achievement, development, responsibility and the work itself. So, by ensuring that we provide our staff opportunities to develop themselves, give them responsibility for what they do, provide them with work that they enjoy and find engaging, and set them challenging targets so that, once they achieve those targets we can recognise and celebrate them, then we are likely to be developing our high performing team, as mentioned earlier.

Avoid wasting time and effort

Too many organisations focus on the wrong aspects of performance and motivation, which is a waste of time and effort – by looking at Herzberg’s theory we can see that reducing and eliminating those factors that may cause dissatisfaction is important though meaningless if attention is not paid to those aspects of the job itself that will motivate our teams and lead to high performance. Remember, the performance of your team is directly attributed to you as a leader and manager, the better your team performance the greater this reflects well on you!

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