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Members of High-Performing Teams Think and Act One Level Up

high-performing teams

The other day I was on the phone to my dad talking about my parents’ frequent trips to Aotearoa – with border lockdowns and advancing age, reliving one’s great adventures is the next best thing to creating new ones. He recalled the quiet beauty of Doubtful Sound, the deep snow blanketing the Tongariro Chateau and of course his favourite links course in Ohope.

I thought about our white-water rafting trip down the Rangitaiki river near Murapara, and promptly used the anecdote the next day when I was with a leadership team wanting to dial up the productivity performance in their operations. The link is evident; let me tell you how.

First the setting: Mum, dad, my wife, and I all decked out in our rafting gear listening to our guide with some trepidation. My parents because of what their adrenaline-fueled son had planned for them, and myself due to their limited water confidence. The on-land practice of the drill commands went smoothly though: “Paddle forward; Left back; Lean in; Hold on”, etcetera. On the water we build confidence as we proved ourselves adapt at following the commands too. We relaxed as the guide was going to get us downriver without issues, we would do as we were told, right? However, just before we had to navigate ourselves into the biggest rapid of the river, we were tested as a team. Somehow our guide dropped off the back of the raft and we were looking at the churning water ahead for a split second. One of us must have called the “Paddle Back!” command and after 10 long seconds of increasingly better-timed motion, we got the guide back in the boat with seconds to spare for the drop that was coming up.

I used the story last week when I discussed creating High Performance culture with a leadership team. There are many models on High-Performing Teams but one that has always stuck with me is the notion that everyone in the organisation has to think and act one level up. Re-read and assess this notion, think and act one level up. When team members think and act like the team leader, hour-by-hour team performance is reviewed, adjusted, and improved. If the team leader thinks and acts like the production manager, issues of flow, quality and planning are dealt with at team leader level. And when a production manager thinks and acts like the MD, customer delivery and satisfaction, financial performance, and other favourable outcomes for all stakeholders follow suit. You are starting to create High-Performing Teams.

On the raft we had to think and act as if the guide were still on board. What if you take this thinking into a business context? What would your organisation look like if everyone were thinking and acting one level up? How would your organisation perform if everyone were thinking and acting one level up? It is a powerful vision of organisational capability, ready to take on any rapids.

Of course, it starts with you, the leader. To build High-Performing Teams you need to create the environment where your people can think and act one level up. To build competence, confidence, motivation, and accountability with your team.

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People and Co-founder of the Global Lean Alliance