InCite Performance Group Blog

Building 'Amazing' High Performing Teams

Posted by Mary Fran Mullan on Jul 7, 2015 6:00:00 AM
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Race2In my last blog, I shared with you two things: I’m a fan of the TV show Survivor, and I believe that show is a case study in risk management practices.  This month, I share with you Survivor is not the only reality TV show I follow. There’s another - my sons have introduced me to The Amazing Race, and I’m hooked.  It’s very entertaining, and the places the contestants visit are stunningly beautiful. And in another case of “art imitates life,” I see parallels between this show and our own agencies and brokerages.

First, a little about the show. It’s very much like a worldwide scavenger hunt.  Two-person teams travel around the globe, following clues to their next destination. Along the way, they must accomplish certain tasks, completion of which earns them the next clue. Detours represent a choice between two different tasks; the team picks one and performs it together. Roadblocks are tasks that only one of the two may perform, so they must choose which team member it will be.  Speed bumps are additional tasks that a team in the race may have to do, the purpose of which, as the name implies, is to slow them down in the pursuit to the finish.  Each episode, the last team to finish all of their tasks and report in to the show’s host at the appropriate spot will be eliminated from the race. 

As I’ve become more familiar with this show, I notice how there is much we can learn and apply to our own High Performance Teams (HPTs) within our agencies and brokerages.  So what do the winners of this race have in common? They perform a number of fundamental teamwork skills well.

1. Communication is Key

Things are moving fast -  the contestants are running through airports, hailing taxis, haggling with merchants, juggling foreign languages, reading maps, driving stick shift cars, and performing any number of tasks together, all with the specter of a deadline looming over them.  It’s stressful. Those who don’t do so well are heard yelling things at each other such as, “Would you just listen to me for a second?!” and “OK, fine, forget it…whatever you want, you think you know everything? We’ll just do it your way…” and the dreaded, “I told you so!”    The teams who do a good job are listening, listening, listening.  "What do you think?  How would you do this?  What are our options? I have a suggestion".   Their communication is clear, they’re not talking over one another, they’re open minded, and most of all they listen.   When it comes to agency operations, what does the conversation sound like in our HPT meetings?  Is one person monopolizing the conversation?  Or are we truly throwing out ideas, solutions, debating and weighing our options? 

2. Know Your Role; Play Your Role

The teams who excel are those who stick to their roles, deploying their highest and best use of their talents and skills. Who drives?   Who navigates?  Afraid of heights?  Comfortable eating just about any food? These teams know one another’s strengths well, and they use them to their advantage.  At the Roadblocks, they must pick one of the two to perform the task.  They discuss, decide and stick with it.  No second guessing, no bickering about what might have been. Once decided, they trust and support each other.  How does this play out in our HPTs? Do we leave our meetings with a clear game plan of who needs to do what, when?  Or do we leave with issues unresolved, direction muddled? Are we taking the tasks we are responsible for and executing just those, or are all of us calling the underwriter, for example, unbeknownst to the others? 

3. Go with the Flow

Most teams hit some sort of a “speed bump” along the way - that extra task they must perform during the episode. But the best understand these things happen.  They keep their cool, go with the flow, keep communicating, and leave the blame game behind. No time for that, we have a finish line to cross, and we don’t want to be the last team in. During closing interviews for that week’s episode, you typically hear these teams talk about what they learned from that speed bump, and what they’ll do in the future to keep from encountering another one.  How about us? Do we first focus on the task at hand with our teams, leaving the debrief for later?  And it is a true debrief, an autopsy without blame as author Jim Collins refers to in his book Good to Great?  Or do we keep silent and leave the meeting mad alone?

There is no doubt all of the teams get on each other’s nerves from time to time.  This is an exhausting adventure, and sleep deprivation, time zone changes, and hunger play a big factor in the outcome.  But the best teams remember it is an adventure.  They keep proper perspective, a positive attitude and they remember no one wins this game by himself.  We will do well when we practice the lessons from this globe–trotting reality TV show.  Performing as a highly effective team is not just a nicety; it’s critical. 

Topics: Operations, High Performance Teams