If it walks like a duck

The connection between self belief and outcomes can be one of the most powerful drivers of performance. When an individual or team truly believe in something, they can often deliver results greater than the sum of the parts. That’s why we often seen teams deliver incredible, unexpected outcomes – “against the odds”.

At the same time, the connection can also be one of the biggest inhibitors when we fail to see or listen to the feedback that surrounds us. Not all of our efforts will bear fruit and the ability to realise this, see where we are falling short or can improve and recorrect is critical.

That’s one the beautiful things about creating a team that operates as an open system. Open systems listen to the feedback in the external environment and respond and develop accordingly. They are, to some extents, the epitome of selfless, ego less organisations. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t the need for process or procedure, but that these are constantly developing in relation to the external environment in which they operate.

In the book “Black Box Thinking”, Matthew Syed gives a number of examples of open systems, but the one that struck me the most was the airline industry, where feedback and information is shared across companies and used to deliver improvements industry wide on all aspects of safety. When someone shares something they’ve learnt because of an incident or a near miss, you don’t hear anyone respond, “but that’s not how we do things here” or “we’ve always done it that way”, they listen and learn.

It begs the question, in our organisations how much do we really listen to the feedback that is around us and how willing are we to adapt and respond as a result? Too often we talk about the reasons why things are as they are, or why they’re too hard to change. But wouldn’t a more engaging, energetic and profitable way be to listen and address?

If we see the work that we do it and the way that we do it as an ongoing journey of improvement rather than a fixed deliverable, we can use the feedback that we hear and see as a positive means of continuing on that journey, rather than as a means to critique what we’ve just done. And from that, we will only ever see better results for everyone involved.

Be a high performing team

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of really exceptional teams working in different organisations and in different functions. I’ve been part of some great teams and also some that were really quite dysfunctional. If you’re struggling, or interested in making your team perform better, here are the areas that I’ve seen make a real and sustainable difference.

What are your drivers of strategic value?
Not every organisation is trying to achieve the same and therefore, their demands on your function aren’t going to be the same. Understanding the organisational strategy and the value that you can contribute to delivering that is key to aligning your activities and resource. Keep it simple, keep it focused, keep it understandable.

How well are you currently performing?
This requires a massive dose of self-restraint, the commitment not to justify and a genuine willingness to improve. I’m talking about getting beyond the noise of “they didn’t let me do xy&z” and really examining the performance of the function – seeking feedback from even the biggest critics. Would you pay for the service that you are delivering if you had a choice? Can you clearly articulate the organisational value?

What’s getting in the way and how can you change it?
Most teams will tell you that they’re ridiculously busy and most of them will be telling you the truth. At the same time, most day-to-day activity, process and protocol hasn’t really been looked at for years. If you’re spending too much time and energy on activities that don’t drive strategic value, you’re going to have to stop. That means permission to rip up the rule book and do things differently.

Can you create the right attitude?
You’re going to need to create the right attitude to deliver your agenda – remembering it won’t always be the same approach, depending on the scenario. Too many people confuse an attitude with personality and often you see teams which look like an identikit version of their leader. The best teams, the highest performing teams recognise difference, but they all share the same attitude and appetite to succeed. If you’re going to be successful, you need everyone on board.

Be relentless in your pursuit of the end game
One of the biggest reasons that teams fail to deliver high performance is inconsistency of focus and approach. Consistency, perseverance and relentless drive to deliver against your goals is key. Success doesn’t happen overnight, there will be challenges and moments of doubt. But ultimately, if you’ve got your direction aligned with your organisation, reduced the things that got in the way and have made sure everyone is pointing in the same direction, you’ll see performance start to improve.

Are you proud of your work?

How many of us can truly say that we’re proud of the work we do on an ongoing basis? I’m not suggesting that the work isn’t worthwhile or valuable. But do your efforts make you proud?

I wonder in a world of increasing complexity at work, whether we are making more jobs that remove the concept of personal pride. The simple linear relationship between actions and outcomes that allow us, at the end of the day, to feel that our contribution not only added value but gave us a sense of pride. If we are dealing with the fragmentation of task and the complex interrelationships that exist in many modern workplaces, is it possible to have that simple reaction to our work?

I immediately think of the challenges that teachers, nurses and those in the services and forces talk about. How the “stuff” gets in the way of their personal pride and drive. Whilst this is perhaps the most simple and obvious examples, is a similar issue occurring in workplaces across the world? Can we help retail employees, call centre operatives, warehouse workers and office staff simply feel a greater sense of personal pride?

“I’m proud of the work I do and the contribution that it makes”.

That feels like a pretty powerful statement and one that would potentially help us understand the level of connection an individual has with the work that they’re doing and the organisation that they work for. Far better than asking whether they’re proud to work for the company – as is often seen on employee and staff surveys. If one could create an organisation where everyone felt proud of their work and their contribution, would that almost undoubtedly lead to higher performance?

How proud are you of the work you do?

What are your boundaries?

Look at any source of advice on relationships and you’ll see reference to standards and boundaries. Like romantic relationships, our expectations of others at work can help or hinder our progress to achieving harmony. We don’t always need to get on, we don’t always need to agree, but it sure as hell helps if we can understand what’s going on.

And being clear on the difference between our standards and boundaries, can only help.

Personally, I like to be early. No, let me be more precise. I HATE to be late. It is a standard that is important to me. If I’m supposed to be somewhere, I’ll try and make sure I’m there in advance and I can arrive at a time that I consider fashionably early.

That’s my standard. It’s something that is important to me, for me. But what’s my boundary?

I appreciate that people get held up, that things crop up and that external factors can impact on the plans of others. However, there are things that I won’t tolerate:

  • If you’re late to a meeting it is your responsibility to catch up, not everyone else’s to wait for you
  • If you’re repeatedly late and it becomes a norm
  • If you don’t acknowledge your lateness and offer apologies to others

So when a colleague turns up to the meeting at 9.59, bustles in to the room with a pile of papers spewing out of their hands and a coffee stain down their shirt, what criteria am I judging them by? My standards, or my boundaries?

Let’s look at something more emotive. Honesty and openness.

I believe in being open and honest. I try my best to express myself as openly and honestly as I can – recognising that I’m not a model of perfection. That’s the standard I hold myself to – to be honest. My boundaries are that I won’t accept being lied to and I reject the withholding of information for the sake of organisational politics, but I accept that I cannot know every detail of every situation.

What happens when I hear about a situation that has occurred in work that I have an opinion on, but haven’t been able to contribute to. It might also be one that personally impacts my work.

Do I hold judgment based on my personal standard, or assess against my boundaries? I know and recognise that I cannot be informed about everything, but surely this piece?

Understanding the difference between our personal standards, the things that we hold dear to ourselves, and the boundaries, the red lines that we cannot accept others to cross is critical to our ability to successfully navigate around our organisations and make things happen.

It is only natural to confuse the two at times, but understanding what we’re doing can only aid us in our contribution in both our personal and professional lives.