When was the last time you played a board game? Or any game? What’s one of the first questions you usually ask before you play? Well, you ask what the rules are don’t you? You want to know how to play and how to win. This also includes an understanding of the playing field and players.
If you subscribe to the belief, as I do, that life is a conglomeration of games – the game of work, game of health, and game of relationships – then to be successful, you need to understand the rules, playing field and other players. And most games we play are team sports. There are very few games which are purely solitary endeavours.
So, for any team to win, for any team to be truly high performing, all the team members need to know and have a similar understanding of the rules and how to win. This is true for any team, whether it be a football team or an IT team.
I previously wrote about the importance of the connection made between the team leader and the team being the first important step to ensuring a high performing group.
The second is the connection between the team members themselves including the leader. In my experience, the best way to establish and maintain this connection is through establishing the rules of engagement or a ‘Code of Honour.’ This is an agreed set of values and rules that the team agree to operate by in all situations. And every member enforces it, by calling each other out, and are each willing to be called out, on breaches of the code.
I learned this concept from one of my coaches, Blair Singer. However, irrespective of what you term it, there are several elements which are required to ensure a team is allied and aligned to a common goal in addition to being accepting and appreciative of each other if the team is to win.
When a group of individuals come together into a team they each bring with them their own values, beliefs, rules and assumptions. For each team member, these things result from their own past experiences. Without clearly outlining and agreeing on unified goals, values and rules, high performance is unattainable because the individuals in the team don't have a common focus and understanding.
I have been fortunate to experience many different teams, both as a team member and a leader. As a result, I have seen and felt the result of teams with and without a Code of Honour.
While every one of these teams seemingly had the vague and elusive goal of ‘being successful’ not all were able to achieve high performing status.
One team I was a member of was charged with leading IT for a geographical region for a segment of the business. Each team member was either a county leader or centre of excellence leader. Our goal was to engage and lead a high performing IT team who excelled in exceeding business needs – well at least that’s what I understood.
Unfortunately, the goal was never articulated, and we rarely came together as a team other than through virtual team meetings where each individual provided their ‘update’. The leader connected with each member individually and we seemingly had different performance measures applied.
Needless to say, the group did not excel, the individual team members played their own games and the leader eventually exited. Unfortunately, this story is all too familiar and is too often a common experience.
Another team I was a member of very clearly had a team goal which was well articulated – the successful implementation of a customer relationship management system for the sales team.
The leader worked extremely hard to ensure each member knew what the goal was and what their role was in achieving that goal. He was also very clear about what his success criteria was i.e. on time, on budget.
However, no Code of Honour existed and unfortunately the leader did not have the capacity to reign in team members that had different ideas about what success looked like and how to achieve the goal. As a result, those team members were able to influence key stakeholders to follow a different course of action and measure success differently.
From personal experience, the time when you first introduce a Code of Honour is critical. Since assuming you have a well-defined team goal, clear roles and responsibilities, agreed and measurable success criteria it's when the team is potentially derailed that the Code of Honour is tested.
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It is then the leaders’ role to ensure that not only is the Code of Honour upheld but all the team members see, hear and feel it being enforced as non-negotiable, not just once but multiple times.
I have also been fortunate to be the sponsor of a project team where the goal was crystal clear – a successful ERP implementation for two countries where success was defined by the ability to take orders, ship product and receipt payment. The values of respect, inclusion and teamwork were adhered to. And the rules: do whatever it takes to be successful bound by the values.
Not all rules need to be exhaustive but those teams which are high performing over the long term are clear about their goal, have an exhaustive code, enforce it, hold each other accountable and are able to whether the storms by adhering to it.
Every member of the team role models and upholds the standard that has been agreed. The team sees the common goal and feels collective satisfaction when the team achieves (vs individual satisfaction) for a job well done.
As a leader, the work required to create a high performing connected team is not insubstantial, and in my experience not a solo effort. As with all successful teams having a coach to provide support and guidance through the process is invaluable! Despite the required effort, the rewards for all involved are immeasurable in terms of output, satisfaction and reputation.
In the words of Stephen Covey, a Code of Honour may take months, even years to put into place.
“All the arguing, the challenging and the calling it and all of that, is what builds the strength around it. It’s what builds the culture,” he says.
Stephanie Barros is a certified high performance coach, facilitator and speaker. She was previously Asia Pacific regional director of information technology at Johnson & Johnson.
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