Rocks balancing on a surface

The anatomy of what makes up high performing teams is pretty simple – smart, interdependent people who collaborate to develop ideas, solve problems, and execute tasks with efficiency and excellence.

How many of you are on a team like that? Many of us would look at ourselves and others on our teams and say “Yes, that sounds like our team.” We get along and we get things done. Period and end of story. Of course, there are also those of us who would unequivocally say that their team does not collaborate or approach tasks with efficiency in the slightest.

I’d venture that even those in the first category though, who consider themselves a part of a high performing team, aren’t truly maximizing team performance and are not working as effectively as they could be.

One of the biggest team performance barriers or team performance traps occurs when the two elements that every team needs—people and tasks—get out of whack and out of rhythm. The Task-Relationship balance is the first step in either advancing high performance or limiting it.

I’m a runner and I like to think of it in the way I balance speed and endurance. Too much of either and I’m not accomplishing what I’ve set out to do, which is to run at a strong pace for as long as I can. Sure, I can run a sub 7-minute mile for 2 miles. I could also run an 11-minute mile until my knees ached, but neither is really advancing how I want to train and work out.

You’ve no doubt been on a team or a project, where this was an issue:

Too heavily focused on tasks?

  • Accomplishing a task overtakes everything else—even critical things like the overall mission of your team or organization.
  • Small achievements aren’t celebrated and employee engagement wanes.
  • People get burnt out and employee retention suffers.

Too focused on relationships?

  • Team members get along but the team isn’t staying focused on the issues and agenda at hand.
  • The team can fragment based on mutual interests and/or personalities—cliques start forming.
  • Decisions aren’t made for the betterment of the organization or the best work outcome.

An article in The Guardian put it this way—“To sustain our organisations in times of economic crisis, we need to pay great attention to our organisational processes and to the quality and nature of the relationships (both internal and external) that are being developed.”

This isn’t just getting things done and getting along with people, it’s what can propel organizations forward in times of big crisis and opportunity. You’re team likely has the competencies and abilities, but the key is tipping the scales in the right direction.

Take a look critically at the people on your team and determine where you’ll find the balanced thinking and action-orientation you’ll need.

  • Do you have a wealth of analytical thinking for example? Ensure that someone is taking relationships into the picture.
  • Are you a team of focused, process-driven, structured thinkers? Ensure that the bigger, conceptual picture is in sight and that the team members are working together to craft a shared vision for accomplishment.
  • Are your team members boisterous and outspoken in their approach? Ensure that all voices are heard, even the quiet ones, to make sure that either task or relationships aren’t getting overrun by certain tendencies.

Think through all the key ways your team can approach work—Analytical, Structural, Social, and Conceptual and notice if there are biases toward some. How does this affect the Task-Relationship balance?

Think through your team’s behavioral spectrum—Expressiveness, Assertiveness and Flexibility and notice where tendencies can push your team toward a more relational approach or a more driven, task approach?

Finding the balance is one step in creating more productive high performing teams. It’s a performance indicator and one that you can watch closely to monitor your team performance.

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