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How To Change A System To Achieve Team Performance Success

“We need a system change rather than individual change.”

— Greta Thunberg

 I love that the UN shared this on their building from Greta Thunberg. One of the many powerful comments she shared in her moving speech recently. Like many, I have so much admiration for this courageous and influential young leader! She role models in so many ways for us and there isn’t a more important change for all leaders right now. 

A system change is needed for sustainable success! 

I have been talking about system changes a lot recently, in the context of team performance, so Greta’s quote got my attention. But what do we mean by a system change? 

I am not in a position of expertise to define what it means for global climate change, but I can speak to it in terms of leaders working together as a team. I hope this helps you make a positive change with your team(s).

Team effectiveness is sustainable when the system is changed

More often team effectiveness programs focus on changing individuals; coaching the team leader, addressing a more disruptive or less-engaged team member(s), replacing the colleague that just does not have the experience and skill needed, or motivate the team with some training. While that does have an impact, it is not enough for sustainable team performance.

What I have learned over the last few years, is that we have to change the system for true sustainable team performance. Our Churchill team believes in this so much based on research courtesy of Team Coaching Intl. and Google, plus our own Churchill global, real-world team development experience.

What do we mean by a “system”?

When it comes to team performance the “system” is what describes the team as a whole sum, as a living being. It includes but is not limited to:

  • How the team interacts with each other and those around it
  • What the team tolerates and puts up with
  • How the team approaches making decisions
  • How the team tracks results and celebrates (or not)
  • How the team deals with stress, ambiguity, and other challenges
  • The level of trust amongst the team

The challenge is that a team is very often not acutely aware of many of these factors and a team member (including the team leader) is so busy and more focused on themselves and their role and activity within the team. Individuals are usually very focused on his or her own role and responsibility (aka department). The consequence is that no one is looking at how the team as a whole “system” is performing. Therefore, the bigger picture of what is going, the challenges and opportunities for the system to improve on with the system gets missed.

This lack of focus on the “system” and improving the system’s health can often explain why you can have a team of highly intelligent, capable people on a team and yet the team does not sustainably perform.

The solution: Build greater awareness about the system and improve its health!

But how do you do that?

Building awareness is the first critical step in making a positive change. It can be done for teams with assessment(s) and expert observations to shine the light on what is going on with the system. That might include what is going right and what is getting in the team’s way of working productively and effectively together.

The productivity side is more of the “what” we do together, i.e. how we make decisions around here, how we track performance, how we set and monitor goals, etc. The working “effectively” together is more about the level of trust, communication, and comradery, etc. The softer yet essential ingredients.

For a team to perform sustainably over time, it needs to be doing the right things for business performance PLUS work in a way that is motivating and creates resilience and engagement as the team experiences the reality of high pressure, stress and the complexity of today’s business. That does not all miraculously happen – you have to have a plan to make it happen.

The best team you’ve ever been a part of

Take a moment to think about the best team you have been on, a team that performed consistently well over time. What stands out for you? If you were a fly on the wall watching that team what would you see?

One example I often reflect on was a sales team I was on in Wales, UK. It was many years ago and yet it still stands strong in my mind. This is what I notice when I reflect:

  1. All team members played a leadership role, we didn’t rely on the manager as much as I have seen on other teams
  2. There was high peer to peer accountability
  3. We had a clear dashboard of both short term and long-term results vs shared goals and we all knew the #s at any point in time
  4. We met often, and our meetings were short, very focused with clear roles and outcomes with tight follow-up accountability.
  5. We had a clear way to make team decisions so we left the meeting aligned.

I could share more, but I think you get the drift. None of this is about individuals, we had many productivity and positivity factors strongly in place.

How does a team system work?

Going back to Greta’s speech. How much do the leaders at the UN global summit trust each other? How many of their goals are truly shared goals? How effectively does their system make decisions together and hold each other accountable? We all know that much of this does not happen and hence it is such a touch change to make. While our Churchill team cannot change the system Greta is attempting to influence, we hope we have helped you think about how you can change your own team system.

If you need expert help with building awareness of your current team system and improving its health for more sustainable performance please reach out to our Churchill team at 888.486.8884.