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Building High-Performing Teams

Originally published: 07.01.08 by Paul Grunau


A company-first attitude must be practiced from the top down.

There is a book called “First, Break All the Rules,” written several years ago by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The book interviews several people with the premise of identifying characteristics associated with superior management and leadership. When this data was collected and analyzed, there emerged one very consistent characteristic demonstrated by exceptional leaders and managers — they took an active and sincere interest in the success of their employees.

Is that elegantly simple or what?

We all know of companies that are defined by the quality of their people and the commitment these employees have to the success of the company. This is particularly apparent in our industry. Because we’re in a highly competitive marketplace with low barriers to entry and multiple companies that utilize the same products, our success will absolutely be determined by the quality of our team and the extent to which they are fully committed to the success of our company. It is important to remember that there are two pieces to my previous statement — people and commitment.

By definition, high-performing teams:

  • Exchange information
  • Exchange ideas
  • Exchange feelings
  • Create an environment of trust
  • Embrace candor
  • Externally focus on markets and customers
  • Evaluate each other
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    based upon performance
  • Excel at change

Characteristics of high-performing teams involve ideas like employee engagement, trust, a “company-first” attitude, consistency and fairness. As the company leader, it should come as no surprise that this all starts with you. Think about your own organization and honestly ask yourself how your team is performing.

Engage And Connect With Your Employees

Employee engagement is all about people feeling connected to the organization and its values, principles and objectives. To start, your team must know what these are. This understanding can be achieved through consistent verbal reinforcement from you, or it can be displayed through signs, banners or communications. These words must be followed by actions that reinforce the intent. If one of your values is continuous investment in the company, then an example of taking action consistent with this value might be offering employee training and education. One way to ensure employee engagement is to show your employees that you are interested in helping them succeed.

Trust Is Powerful

In my opinion, trust is the fuel that runs the engine of high-performing teams. Trust is all about making and meeting commitments, doing what you say, and remaining committed to each other, especially during times of adversity. Do your employees trust you? Do they trust each other? Do your customers trust your team? Trust starts with you. If your team views you as someone they can trust unequivocally, then they can confidently devote their full energies to the company.

Attitude Is Everything

A company-first attitude entails putting our egos aside and understanding that we succeed only when the company succeeds. This is the precursor to the previous concept I addressed wherein our customers will want to do business with us only when they feel that we are sincerely concerned about their success. The same goes for your team. When they see that you have a company-first attitude, they will “want to do business” with you. This leaves no room in your organization for “me-first” people. This can sometimes be challenging, especially if you have a me-first person who is profitable for the company. In the long run, this individual will eventually hurt the organization, either by alienating co-workers or representing the company with customers in an unfavorable way. If you truly aspire to lead a high-performing team, the me-first individuals must not be a part of it.

Be Fair And Consistent

Attitude, consistency and fairness are all related, and they all begin with you. Think about it this way: When your epitaph is written, what do you want people to say about you? In my experience, one of the most frequent responses is “I want to be known as someone who was fair.” Simple and powerful at the same time.

Fairness builds trust and trust drives out fear. People in organizations have lots of fears—fear of losing their job, fear of being underpaid, fear of not being recognized, fear of being blamed and fear of not obtaining opportunities. By eliminating all of these sources of fear, you dramatically increase the chances that employees will want to fully commit to the company.

Your leadership affects the success of your organization. If you encourage your company to be a high-performing team you must first do an honest evaluation of your current situation. Evaluate your team against the criteria listed above and solicit your employees’ feedback. Then, think about what you can do to create an environment that inspires and motivates your employees. It has a lot to do with what you say and how you act. After all, we can have 1,000-page contracts that state all the things we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to act. At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or notyour employees want to engage with you in helping your company succeed. The best companies are built on trust, fairness and a company-first attitude where employees know that they will be recognized and challenged, and where they feel strongly that their success is your primary concern.

The Grunau Co. is a full-service mechanical systems company with more than 500 employees. The company provides expertise on design, construction, installation, and service and maintenance for the commercial, industrial and institutional markets. 


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