What politicians can learn from high performing team research

However you get your daily news fix you cannot escape the fact that political leaders, particularly here in the UK, are dominating the headlines – whether it’s a fight for the top position, or the building of a new Cabinet.

And this got me thinking….

Put the search term ‘high performing teams’ into Google and you’ll get back over 7 million hits. Now, most if not all of this research focuses on businesses and other organisations. But what about political teams?

Boil the research down and you’ll pretty much get the same factors coming up again and again. My favourite research comes from Carl Larson and Frank LaFasto and whilst it’s over 25 years old, their findings on the key factors for high performing teams still remain true now.

So what can the likes of May, Corbyn, Clinton, Trump, Merkel et al learn from this research? Well, here’s a digest of the eight factors that, when all in alignment, help create a high performing team:

  1. Make sure you have clear, stretching goals: Everyone in the team needs to be crystal clear about the team (or party’s) purpose and feel sufficiently stretched (which is different from stressed!)
  2. All team members must be competent: In short, every single person needs to have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job they’ve been assigned. It’s important that roles are assigned to the best person for the job. That person might be friend or foe – the important thing is they can do the job well.
  3. Create and reward a collaborative climate: This is where the leader really needs to put their money where their mouth is, both literally and figuratively. Team members are rewarded and praised for working together, sharing ideas and helping each other out – as opposed to reward mechanisms which essentially set people up to compete with each other.
  4. Foster external support and recognition: Team members are encouraged to learn from outside the organisation – sharing ideas and practice, and bringing learning back. Benchmarking with other, similar teams is something to be welcomed not feared.
  5. Create a results driven structure: Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes. Not to be confused with outputs – something which a lot of teams in my experience mistake for outcomes. All team members need to be clear on individual and team performance targets and the ‘rules of the game’ for achieving these. More importantly poor performance is dealt with, not ignored.
  6. There is a unified commitment to a purpose: It’s the old adage of disagree in private, agree in public. A good leader will ensure everyone’s differences are aired, heard and respected (if not agreed with) but that the moment the team steps out the room, that everyone is united. This particular factor links to collaboration and performance – if team members were more reliant on each other in order to do well, as opposed to being set up against each other, then that could go some way to unifying. Having a clearly communicated common purpose/cause also helps with unifying a team.
  7. Make clear what the standards of excellence are: Every single member of the team is clear on the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘excellence’. It’s vital that the leader then sticks to this and doesn’t keep moving the goal posts. And when excellence is achieved it is recognised and rewarded – thereby, embedding into the psyche of the team.
  8. Principled leadership: The best is saved till last. This is the holy grail, to some extent and requires the leader of the organisation (or party) to be incredibly self aware, reflective and open to feedback. Team members need to see, hear and feel that what the leader says is completely congruent with what they actually do.

So, taking these eight factors into account – how many of these do you see in action? Whether in your own team or from what you see in the news when reading about political parties?

Drop me a line as I’d love to hear your thoughts on this research and the implications for your organisation.

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  1. Brilliant article that reinforces good practices and more.
    Having joined a new team in the last few days, I will be anxious to see if some, if not all the best eight practices are evidenced.


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