Book Summary – The Best Team Wins (The New Science of High Performance)

While most books of employee rules don’t address working in outer space, Hadfield had his team create an unwritten rule: Each day in the space station, each team member had to do one unasked-for kindness for every other crew member. Hadfield credits this unwritten rule as the most crucial factor in his crew’s easy functioning as a team in space and its ability to work as a “codified, unified team.”

The VUCA model describes the current workplace as fraught with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Studies may celebrate how well groups work together if they share intelligence, communicate and cultivate an upbeat team ambiance. Under those circumstances, they tout increased productivity and reduced accidents and health care costs, but most companies can only wish for such well-functioning teams.

“It’s never been more difficult to create a sense of common team culture; make every worker feel connected and integral to the group; and facilitate clear, inclusive and frequent communication among members.”

Today’s VUCA work environment – a mix of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – demands a team-based approach. Almost half of all companies either have shifted or are shifting toward team-based work environments. Staff members in average companies already spend as much as 80% of their time working in teams. Yet, 96% of the executives who responded to a Salesforce survey said people’s inability to communicate and work together were the major causes of failures at work. So how do managers become the right leaders to bring teams together?

Use understanding, one-on-one attention, fast productivity, innovation and customer service to manage multigenerational teams.

To create and run strong teams, apply five management techniques:

  1. Help the generations understand each other – Surprisingly, the millennial (genY), gen X and baby boomer generations share three top motivators. Analysis of an international, 50,000-person data set shows that workers from all three generations want to have an impact, want to learn and want to achieve work-life balance. They agree that money is the least important motivator and that learning is the most crucial. Yet boomers’ and gen Xers’ desire for self-sufficiency can collide with millennials’ need for collaboration. On a multigenerational team, friction between a desire to work alone and a need for constant feedback, closeness and collaboration can spark discord.
  2. Pay attention to individual team members – Consult with each person on your team to work toward his or her career goals. In 2016, author Chester Elton prepared to present the keynote address to 9,000 managers of Tesco – the largest UK grocery chain. The conference organizers pored over Elton’s slides, essentially revising the fun out of them. The conference director explained to the organizers that they were doing the equivalent of inviting rock star Bruce Springsteen to perform but not letting him “play his guitar…sing his greatest hits” and “let people dance onstage.” The moral of the story is: Help your people shine at what they do best.
  3. Build mutual productivity – In decades past, employees stayed at the same company for years. Today, millennials are likely to move on when dissatisfied. When a new person joins your team, managers and team members must be welcoming and ready to retrain the newcomer as necessary. To make new people feel comfortable, hire those who best fit your culture, start orientation before their first day of work, share the big picture early on, provide extra attention on the first day, enlist team members to offer guidance and make the team’s code of conduct clear.
  4. Foster innovation in a safe setting for debate – Google’s Project Aristotle spent five years researching why some groups are more innovative and productive. Researchers examined 250 attributes of 180 Google teams. They found that the best teams weren’t technically superior, better paid or better led. What mattered most was the proper application of soft disciplines. The best teams trusted their members, understood their shared goals, found value in their work and believed it had a positive impact. The most important performance measure was how psychologically safe members felt with one another. This sense of safety allows debate and disagreements. Apple founder Steve Jobs, known for his adamant opinions, realized that unfettered discourse led staff members to generate their best ideas. The late Harvard organizational psychology professor Richard Hackman found that teams which had a “deviant” member who consistently spoke up performed better than teams lacking such a renegade. While a radical person may see an issue from a different perspective, he or she often offers solutions – a requirement for being an effective in-house rebel. A “devil’s advocate,” on the other hand, concentrates only on the negative. Diversity benefits customers and your company. Diverse teams often solve problems more effectively than homogeneous ones.
  5. Build a sense of purpose around customer service – A strong focus on customers increases teams’ strength. Gerard Johan “G.J.” Hart, CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, tells team leaders to think of themselves as being like emergency-line phone operators who show that they care for the people they help. Making customer care the team’s focus increased employee involvement and purpose. In another example, the group that sells tickets for the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team had it rough when the team was at the bottom of the NBA. Yet in three seasons, the group went from selling 1,700 tickets a year to selling more than 12,000 tickets. The key was finding something customers wanted. Coach Brett Brown began taking front-row season ticket holders to dinner and providing other season ticket holders with access to players and strategy sessions. The sales team focused on positively affecting their customers. Help your teams understand your clientele by sharing their experiences on field trips or by bringing customers to them.

Millennials are 3.5 times more motivated by recognition than baby boomers, but everyone likes to be appreciated.

By 2020, more than 50% of the workforce will be from the millennial generation – the age cohort that Time magazine named the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” The magazine didn’t take into account the benefits that this technology-driven generation brings to the workplace.

“Millennials value nurturing and constant high-level engagement with their leaders – as well as being challenged and making a difference.”

Companies recognize that work motivates millennials 3.5 times more than it motivates baby boomers. Ironically, while that may frustrate older managers and colleagues, they can “parent” millennials with ongoing appreciation and recognition. Praise ranks high on millennials’ list of motivators.

“While autonomy is one of the stronger motivators for boomers and gen X workers, it ranks near the bottom for millennials.”

Deloitte executive Dan Helfrich embraces recognition as a basis for strong teams. He sent out an email to the Federal Government Services Practice he leads, asking staff members each to submit a story about how a colleague helped them and to send that person a copy of the story. Within the week, he’d received 1,000 return emails. He realized that staff members wanted to thank their colleagues – an acknowledgement that mattered to millennials and everyone else on his staff.

Recognize employee achievement by using seven best practices.

You can bring seven best practices to bear when you want to recognize people who do good work:

  1. Appreciate good tries – By acknowledging regular milestones and even initiatives that don’t work out, you provide a positive feedback chain.
  2. Say thanks right now – Immediately thank someone for doing something. Don’t wait for a meeting or special event.
  3. Praise often – Leaders of thriving teams provide positive feedback at least every week.
  4. Share details – Let people know that you saw specifically what they did to help a project succeed or to help the team reach a milestone.
  5. Build on important values – Notice when an employee embodies or supports company values and point it out approvingly.
  6. Celebrate great results – Find a way to mark significant successes that matter to the person you’re praising. You could offer an award, a promotion or a chance to lead a project.
  7. “Take a STEP” – When you formally present an award, relay a “story” about the achievement, gather the team “together” to make the honor public, “emphasize” the core value that the accomplishment represents and “personalize” the moment.

Millennials – and teams in general – perform better in a transparent environment in which they receive ample feedback.

Melissa Aquino, vice president of the science and technology giant Danaher, moved from a “need-to-know” culture to a “need-to-share” culture. The company supports the kind of transparency that social media sites have made ubiquitous in millennials’ social lives. Danaher finds that transparency engenders greater collaboration.

 ”Firms…have a significant advantage over competitors when they emphasize a commitment to helping their professionals think about and manage their careers.”

Finding time to give feedback can be an issue for managers. To connect with your staff members, replace or augment their annual performance review with a continual review process that concentrates on each employee’s development goals and career issues. Your goal is retention: Estimates indicate that replacing an employee costs about 150% of that person’s annual salary.

“The challenge of successfully incorporating new team members is becoming even more acute with the increasingly intense productivity demands organizations face, not to mention the move toward more fluid teams.”

American Express president José María Zas creates profiles of staff members to better understand their professional and personal goals and to enable tailoring their assignments – also known as “job sculpting.” You also can use a motivational assessment tool to help ease conflicts and ensure that you give team members assignments in line with their goals and skills.

To tear down silos, help your teams become customer focused.

As companies move to cross-functional teams, they have to discard many former practices that led to silos. Having your organization and its teams become more customer-focused can remove some barriers, even those that have built up over many years.

“In great teams, managers aim their people at regular, small-scale milestones to get to the big ones, and they praise every positive step taken along the way –including valiant efforts that don’t work out.”

For example, one midsize bank developed a strong culture built on silos and internal divisions. While each group felt it operated efficiently, department by department, the firm didn’t grow as quickly as its competitors. Consultants created a “journey map” to show how confusing and complicated the bank’s internal divisions made it for a customer to transfer funds, get a loan or refinance a home. The consultants’ report offered a stark lesson in how detrimental it can be for a company to divide into multiple groups and force customers to move back and forth among them.

“For customers, an organization is a single entity. It is one big team, and as such, the members naturally should work and respond with one accord.”

Sturm, Ruger & Company CEO Mike Fifer brought his company together by allocating 15% of its quarterly pretax profits to profit-sharing, a move that made everyone “pull together in the same direction.” The employees and the company benefited.

When a team works as a portion of a larger whole by fostering each individual’s goals and aligning members with their teammates and their corporate objectives, the members of a multigenerational workforce can support each other and achieve outstanding results.