“My Team’s Performance Is Fine; It’s The Other Teams Who Need Performance Help” (Chapter 9)
Not recognising that a team needs to change its behaviour is a belief that any leader can develop at any level of performance.
This mindset typically appears because the leader and their team are good at what they do—they’ve been in their role for a long time and have mastered their role, knowing it inside out and back to front. Plus, they’ve used their skills and performed highly for a long time, and those results keep rolling in.
Then, slowly over time, their performance dwindles, so they point the finger of blame at other people—other teams. After all, they’ve performed well for years, so it couldn’t possibly be them that’s causing the problem. Could it?
With them stuck in this old way of thinking, it’s very hard for them to realise that they need to change and adapt to an ever-changing world. Often, brilliant executives and teams are not willing to change the way that they work because it’s worked well for years.
When I worked in the banking sector years ago, we encountered a problem; it was profound, so it needed to be addressed quickly. Noting that this issue would be difficult to resolve, and at the same time could become too big to contain, I called a meeting with the heads of all the areas related to the incident.
Most heads accepted the meeting quickly, not questioning the need—except for one leader, that is, who said, “I don’t know why you’ve included me in this; it’s nothing to do with me or my team.”
At the time I didn’t care who was responsible; all I knew was that collectively we had to put out this fire before it became a raging inferno. My response to this leader was, “It’s a real mystery how this problem occurred, but our priority is to get it sorted before it blows out of scale.”
It was a hard road to travel. But collectively all teams worked together to resolve the issue. It turned out the problem existed between two teams, so no one group was to blame. However, without everyone’s input, the problem would have escalated.
Resolving this issue and others like it is not about finding someone to blame. It is about understanding that, in this complex world, collectively using our wisdom to resolve problems is far more effective than operating in siloes, however ‘high-performing.’ Although, it is often easier said than done, with this myth often preventing problem resolution.
A ‘hand-off’ culture in an organisation is another way that this issue presents. Let’s look at this in greater detail to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon.
You and your team are at the top of your game, and you have been for some time. You work in a large organisation, so you and your team are just one group amongst many. Therefore, when work is in progress, your team can quickly and efficiently do your part before handing off the work to another team.
Your priority is getting your part done, rather than a whole. This approach has limited success and is magnified when a problem presents itself. As the high-performing, efficient team who has done their part, it is easier for you to assign failure to another team, rather than examine your own processes and admit that you and your team could make improvements.
This ‘hand-off’ culture leaves many teams high and dry and struggling to solve what is really a problem of the whole, rather than the parts. Meanwhile, the ‘high- performing’ team moves on to another project, never feeling the impact of the problem they have inadvertently contributed to.
This ‘hand-off’ culture exists in many workplaces, as many organisations have specific departments that carry out designated duties within confined role descriptions. If a problem occurs that falls outside of this role description, the standard approach is to pass it to the team with the appropriate roles.
In many cases, the team handing off the work genuinely believes they are doing the right thing. In other cases, the problem is treated like the proverbial ‘hot potato’ and handed off swiftly. This approach (regardless of the intent) can result in a problem becoming difficult to resolve.