Unlocking the performance of your team

There is overwhelming evidence to suggest and promote the benefit and commercial value of team work, yet many ambitious business owners struggle to find the time to work on this important aspect of their business.

  • Why is this the case?
  • How have others unlocked the code?
  • What steps could you take to start getting world class performance from your team?
  • These were just some of the questions we were looking to answer at our Thames Valley Cog:ent Group meeting on 10 October 2013. If you missed out on the event, you can read the slides from the event by clicking here. If you would like to explore your own leadership and team dynamic, please email your details to tlindsay@telospartners.com.

    So, why is it, seemingly, so hard for ambitious business owners to build and develop world class teams?

    Well, the answers appear to lie in the evolutionary and organic process that creates and grows ambitious, owner managed businesses:

  • a focus on survival, making do with we have got and dealing with the day-to-day aspects is a stark reality for many ambitious business owners;
  • a reality which, coupled with a lack of budget and capacity/capability to spend the time on the team often means that the development of individuals and the team takes a lesser priority than many other activities in the business;
  • something which is frequently exacerbated by the (understandable, but inhibiting) characteristic of many business owners to control and direct rather than empower and lead;
  • the result is, all too frequently, a team that is unable (or fearful) of taking responsibility and a business owner who is frustrated with their own ability to unlock the potential of the team.
  • What can we learn from business owners who have tackled this challenge? What does it take to break out of this dynamic? How have we helped and seen others succeed in this task? What does all of this mean for you?

    Recognise your own strengths, then build a team to complement
    Your team is what it is because of you, and will become what it can become because of you. Look to your own strengths and weaknesses and build a team for the business, around you.

    Understand, articulate and model your values
    Experience shows that it is not just capability that you need in your team but a common and shared set of purpose, values and beliefs. It is not good enough just to write them down, you need to model them, test for them at interview stage and renew them on an ongoing basis.

    Vive la difference
    Contrary to the popular belief of many business owners, you do not have all the answers, have a monopoly on good ideas, or even know how it should be done. Of equal importance is diversity in approach, skills, personality and thinking. Constructive difference can and will deliver better results in the long-term.

    Trust the one you love and love the one you trust
    At the heart of a successful team is trust. Something that develops and builds over time. The more trust that you have in others, the more they have in you. If you can trust yourself to delegate and manage people, you will learn to trust that they can deliver for you. If that trust is missing in the first place, you might have some tough questions to ask yourself.

    Take time to develop the team
    What might you discover, if for a moment, you pause the task and review what is going on for individuals and for the team? What questions might you ask? How might your understanding of the task be improved by really hearing the answers? The dynamic and complex nature of relationships, means that developing performance within a team takes time. Expect to go through different stages of development. Periodically, take steps back to review what is going well and what can be improved, so that you can move from one stage to the next.

    Recognise your role in developing the team
    It is easy to point the finger of blame at others, and you can be guaranteed that most people blame the leader! Recognising what the team needs from you, and being able to provide it, is critically important.

    If you want trust, become comfortable with being vulnerable. If you want mastery, be prepared to encourage conflict. If you want commitment, don’t be afraid ask the group close down options. If you want accountability, get ready to tackle some difficult issues. And above all, keep the team focused on outcomes and results.

    Tough love
    Finally, don’t believe the myth that high performing teams are soft, fluffy places where everyone loves each other. The best teams can be tough and challenging as well as fun and supportive.

    Based upon our explorations of this theme, these are some of the questions that we would ask of you:

  • What is it that you do best?
  • What is it that only you can do?
  • What else does the business need for it to be successful and sustainable?
  • What needs to happen to build trust within, and amongst, the team?
  • To what extent do you have common agreement on your purpose, values, vision and short-term objectives?
  • What does the team need to deliver better results?
  • What change do you need to make in your own approach?
  • If you are interested in discovering more about how we can help you to unlock the performance of your team, please contact acampbell@telospartners.com.

    You might also wish to read the theme, from Entrepreneur as Leader

    Participants also had the opportunity to find out more about an HSBC initiative for which, like Cogent, the real value is in taking part. For more information, please read below.

    Global Connections

    At HSBC we believe some of the world’s most ambitious, dynamic and forward-thinking companies are right here in the UK.

    Over the last three years, we have run the Business Thinking and Global Connections competitions to recognise and reward those businesses, giving entrants access to a total of over £3bn of lending to support their ambitions for growth.

    In September we have lauched our fourth national business competition, providing entrants with a unique opportunity to meet and network with like-minded business leaders.

    Our 45 regional finalists will also be able to gain invaluable insights on visits to some of the world’s fastest-growing markets as part of our International Exchanges.

    This year’s Global Connections competition has launched on 16th September, again giving entrants the prospect of accessing up to £6m in lending.*

    The competition is open to all UK businesses that have been trading for a minimum of two years with aturnover between £2m and £100m.

    Visit http://www.hsbc.co.uk/globalconnections to take advantage of this unique opportunity and begin your application.

    Relationships make the world go round …

    … and are the source of Business Improvement and Growth

    Can you think of a business that could exist or sustain growth without a set of successful relationships?

    No? Nor could we.

    Yet often, in our work, we come across business owners who appear at the mercy of the relationships that they have with customers, with suppliers, with staff or with finaniciers. You’ll find them battling hard to make things work, scurrying around chasing their tails, desperately looking to please anyone and everyone, almost accepting that this is the life of the business owner.

    Occasionally, we come across someone for whom this is not the case. They are seemingly more in control of themselves, clearer on what they are looking for, better able to establish, build and nurture a diverse range of relationships, and are open and trusting in their approach. As a result, they appear to obtain greater value from these relationships socially, intellectually and financially.

    We were left wondering:

    • What are the secrets of a successful business relationship?
    • Can ambitious business owners benefit from being more strategic in their relationships?
    • How might you change the dynamic within the set of relationships that you have?

    So, as part of our partnership with Kent Business School, at the Business Improvement and Growth Network session on 4 October 2013, we set about beginning to discover the answers to these questions. We trawled the hallowed archives of academia, took on board the findings of our own research, considered the challenges that our client base is facing, reflected upon our own experiences and brought together 9 ambitious business owners with a former head of R&D for a FTSE 100 corporation and our own team. What follows is a snippet of the things that we uncovered …

    The value of analysis

    Amidst the daily stresses and strains of the business roller-coaster, it is a real challenge to take a step back and analyse where things are working, and where they might need some attention. But, if the experience of our group of ambitious business owners is anything to go by, simply reflecting on one relationship that works and one that doesn’t throws up some interesting insights.

    Not only that, but taking a step back and analysing all of your business relationships seems like a worthwhile activity too.

    So, before reading the rest of this article, read the slides, the comments from participants, and review the relationship recipe and diagnostic. Then grab yourself a cup of tea, take a seat and have a go at reflecting on your own set of relationships.

    131003 BIG Network_creating value through relationships – slides

    Please feel free to share with us any insights that you have.

    The danger of assumptions

    When asked why business relationships fail, for the participants of the meeting at least, it would appear that the phrase ‘assumptions are the mother of all *#*# ups’ holds true. Whether it is: differing expectations; undelivered promises; communication let downs; leaving it too late to have the conversation that is really needed; or, only focusing on building one key relationship, the heart of relationship failure appeared to comedown to a poor and growing set of unchecked assumptions. Reversing this may be the secret of success.

    Take a human approach

    How many times has your view of a person changed when they’ve told you what they do?

    • “I work for a charity”
    • “I’m cabin crew for a major airline”
    • “I’m a stay at home dad”
    • “I’m the trade union representative”
    • “I’m a potential customer with a budget of £250k that I might spend with your business”

    It is funny how we our reaction and behaviour are coloured by this type of information. But, how would you treat each of these people if you didn’t know this information? As a human being, we hope!

    Everyone you deal with in business is a human being, no surprise there! They have the same set of delights and challenges. They all have dreams, fears, personalities, good days, bad days and lives outside of work. They are all the same, and are all different. They will value someone who they get along with and who helps them on their path in life. So take an authentic, human approach, by taking a moment to put yourself in their shoes.

    Just don’t assume that they will want to be sociable and friendly! Not everyone is that way inclined.

    Establish mutual value

    “Win-win” is one of those godawful phrases that makes you cringe. Yet, in our exploration of this theme, it’s underpinning merits shone through brightly. Relationships only seem to sustain themselves, even bad ones, if they somehow provide some source of mutual value.

    Whether it is simply making their lives easier, or providing a ground breaking service that radically improves their business, if you want a business relationship to survive and thrive it makes sense that you will need to create value for the other party. But, what about you? Have you stopped to consider what you really want from the relationship? To what extent have you made this clear to the other party? Have you let the assumptions build up, again?

    Develop trust step by step

    Trust is fundamental to any successful relationship, so how do trusting relationships develop? A step-by-step process of delivering on promises, matching expectations and ensuring there are no surprises.

    From the way you get in through the door (a recommendation or referral builds the most trust at this stage); through doing what you said you would do, at and after the first meeting; by communicating and sharing good and bad news; on to delivering and reviewing the work; each step or action taken is an opportunity to develop and build trust. The more trusting the relationship the more chances it has of being successful in the long-term.

    At multiple levels

    In our exploration of the theme, participants discussed many examples of successful business relationships that disappeared when a key contact moved jobs. To mitigate this risk, but also to enhance the chances of success, it is critical to broaden the set of relationships that you have, at all levels of the business. Whilst one person may have the responsibility, it is rare that they are the only person involved in the making of a decision or the fulfillment of a project or service. Building trusting relationships with all of these key people is a fundamental and challenging part of the task.

    It’s alright to be appropriately commercial

    A familiar path of many personal relationships sees one party taking a higher role, for example you take the partner of your dreams on a first date; confidently take the bill, paying it before their eyes set firm on the extortionate amount; then court them with impromptu gifts; you marry and honeymoon in dreamlike location; have kids; and privately worry about paying the mortgage, stress about the money and become resentful about feeling like a ‘walking wallet’ … an extreme example we know, and we are am sure you are all more balanced than this. What would have happened if at the start of the relationship they had split they bill? We’ll never really know, but there is a point … honestly!

    Many business owners will shroud a commercial conversation in a veil of mystery and intrigue, discounting the price, or hiding away their profit, before even having the conversation to deal with their feelings of guilt. But, it turns out that the opposite should be true for a successful business relationship. You’ll be surprised to learn that it is in the interests of your customer, supplier or member of staff to know that you are also making enough (but not too much) money.

    Nirvana is indeed a transparent commercial conversation. In fact, successful business relationships have a commercial imperative. If only corporate procurement processes and tenders could indeed deliver this!

    Sometimes it‘s right to be transactional

    Finally, it’s worth acknowledging the often misrepresented ‘dark side of business relationships’. Not every relationship needs to be deep and strategic, your portfolio of business relationships will and should have a mix of strategic and transactional to serve and meet a variety of needs.

    It is alright for people to just want: baked beans on toast; to avoid the chit-chat with the cashier at the supermarket check-out by using self-service; to get the lowest price; to transact online. For them it represents a win, and if you can find a way for it to win with you too, you might be on to something good!

    Concluding remarks

    So having explored the theme in more depth, we are looking forward to establishing the impact of the actions that our 9 intrepid business owners set for themselves. Until then, here are some of the questions would we suggest that you begin to answer for yourself:

    • Who are/should you be building relationships with now, and in the future
    • How would you assess the current nature of these relationships?
    • To what extent have you checked your assumptions?
    • What is a successful outcome, for all parties?
    • What action needs to be taken to achieve these outcomes?
    • How will the first action that you take help to build trust?
    • What systems do you have in place to manage these relationships effectively on an ongoing basis?

    If any of the above has sparked your interest, please get in touch with acampbell@telospartners.com

    For more information about the Business Improvement and Growth Journey, please visit click here.