How to build a high-performing team: The importance of benchmarking

Comparing your team against other similar teams can be a really helpful way to objectively assess how well you’re performing.

The leaders of the best-performing teams I work with absolutely get this. Yet, there are just as many who, when I ask for benchmarking data, don’t have any and don’t get the importance. They then wonder why performance has plateaued or worse, has declined.

A bit of healthy competition between similar organisations can sometimes be just the thing to give a bit of oomph to a team. There’s an element of social comparison theory here too.

Leon Festinger developed this theory in 1954 and whilst it focuses on the self, I think it can be applied to teams too. There are two key aspects of the theory that I think are relevant and these are:

Self-evaluation, where an individual will choose a comparison similar to themselves in order to better ensure accurate evaluation. So, in a team context, picking similar teams in similar organisational contexts is important for the bench-mark to resonate.

Competitiveness, where significance of a competitor depends on their status and the standards to which they are being held. Therefore, in a team context, you want to ensure that you’re bench-marking against organisations who you hold in high regard and where you know they have similar or even higher standards of performance.

It’s also worth flagging up an area of caution relating to a third aspect of the theory:

Self-enhancement, where an individual will downplay similarities if the comparison is higher performing or make more of similarities if the comparison is lower performing. This is borne of the need to protect or improve self-esteem. So, in a team context be aware of any enhancement going on when bench-marking. Your job, as the leader, is to ask questions and interrogate the data rather than take at face value.

Not sure if you’re bench-marking, or if you are, not sure if it’s having a meaningful impact? Here is a useful set of questions which you can use with your team:

  • How does bench-marking currently happen in our team?
  • Which organisations and/or teams do we benchmark with?
  • How regularly does bench-marking happen?
  • How does it get reported? To who?
  • What difference has bench-marking made to our performance?
  • What specific improvements have we made as a result, in the past two years?
  • Are there any gaps in our bench-marking?
  • What questions do we still have on the back of any bench-mark reports?

If you don’t have any bench-marking in place, here are some questions to ask:

  • What organisations could we benchmark against?
  • Are there other sectors it would be helpful for us to compare against?
  • Who could we ask to get some examples of bench-marking reports?
  • Do we think the effort is worth it?
  • What difference do we need bench-marking to make?
  • What are the key performance indicators we need to compare with other similar teams?

What have been your experiences of bench-marking? What difference has it made to your own team’s performance? Share your stories in the comments box so that others can benefit.

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