It’s that time of year, March Madness, where many of us watch the college teams battle it out in the NCAA basketball tournament. What I love about this season is seeing close games where talented athletes deliver incredible levels of performance, both individually and collectively. What’s almost as interesting is the breakdowns that happen and how coaches engage when teams don’t live up to their full capabilities.
These breakdowns are powerful learning opportunities observing how coach and team members interact that either enable the team, or further hinder performance.
Like coaches, leaders are not really on the court or field with their teams. They’re inspiring, stewarding and enabling their teams to achieve a certain vision of success. When driving towards high performance in business or games, it’s natural to feel the stress and pressure of missed opportunities and under-delivering. In these moments, it’s easy to point the finger and lay blame. In the end, while you may feel better, how do these actions improve team performance? The real work is figuring out with your team what adjustments are needed to enable peak performance.
Take a System Perspective
Each team and organization are a series of systems. Systems thinking is a holistic analytical approach that focuses on the way a system’s constituent parts interrelate and work over time. By examining the situation from a systems lens, leaders, teams and coaches can find new insights about what is blocking performance. In teams, this includes things like talent and capabilities, the environment (or the opposing team and how they’re playing), the structure (a.k.a. your defensive and offensive sets), the team’s emotions and attitudes, how the work is flowing, and the way you’re leading as the head of this system.
Here are some key questions for leaders to ask:
- Do I have the right talent? What skills are most needed in this moment to drive success, and how am I helping team members understand this?
- What are the blocks we’re facing in our environment?
- What are the implications for how I lead and the decisions we make as a team?
- How am I engaging the team about what they’re noticing, and cultivating the insights needed to align to the challenge?
- Am I attuned to the needs of my team at an emotional, cognitive and physical level?
- What am I doing to inspire the team’s ability to achieve success?
- What’s the right work for the team to deliver, and what leadership do they need from within the team?
- What does my team need most from me to be at their best? Instead leaders often approach this question by asking themselves “What do I need to tell my team?”
Co-Create the Way Forward
When an opportunity like this presents itself, instead of dropping into reactive behaviors, work with your team to embrace openness and generate the solution together. It’s important for teams today to be able to learn and adapt, and their leader plays an important role in cultivating this orientation.
Begin a dialog that elevates you and engages your team’s ownership of the issues and solutions. Involve the team in a conversation about what’s happening so you can build a shared understanding versus telling them your view. Ask them what they’re noticing about the system, themselves, the environment and your leadership, to ultimately help them “win.” This takes a mature leader who’s comfortable not having all the answers, who’s open to understanding their impact. It also takes someone willing to relinquish control in order to create a more sustainable solution, with full ownership among team members.
If you want help with your team or your leadership, reach out to Capacity Group. We’re here to support you in creating meaningful results with your team!
For more information on team building, please see this Harvard Business Review article: https://hbr.org/2018/07/4-ways-to-create-a-learning-culture-on-your-team.