"Tracey’s Takeaways" is a regular feature that focuses on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.

This article provides practical team maximizing tips from Delaine Orendorff, NRECA's senior principal/director of human capital planning & compensation.

"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."
Andrew Carnegie

This article was originally written before coronavirus became an everyday word. So much has changed and yet so much has stayed the same. Our organizations need to maintain business continuity, while at the same time encouraging social distancing, not only for our employees' health and safety but also to "flatten the curve." Working remotely has increasingly become an option, as organizations seek to keep their employees safe and follow government guidelines. In this article, we examine the key attributes of high-performing teams and how leaders can support teams working remotely.

What makes great teams great and the need for high-performing teams hasn't changed over the past month. With the advent of new technologies, managing costs, adding new products and/or services to meet the needs of modern consumer-members, the challenges for electric cooperatives today are many. And that means we are asking more and more of our teams to deliver the desired results. Teams bring a diversity of skills, knowledge, expertise and experience…and effective teams deliver!

There has been a significant amount of research on what makes great teams great and how organizations can use this knowledge to build high-performing teams. We have outlined the key attributes below. Interestingly, it is reported that only 10% to 20% of teams rank themselves as high-performing, so there is clearly a lot of opportunity for leaders to engage.

5 Key Attributes of High-Performing Teams

  1. Clarity/Purpose: Great teams understand their purpose and help shape it. They create clear goals and objectives that align with the team's purpose or vision. They focus on and measure results. Team members have clearly articulated roles and responsibilities. Providing clarity (and doing so repeatedly) becomes even more critical when teams are working remotely, especially for the first time.

  2. Accountability/Dependability: High-performing teams hold each other accountable, and team members understand that they are responsible for delivering. A critical component of accountability is developing team norms, or guiding principles, relative to the group interactions, delivery on commitments and holding each other accountable. Those principles should be flexible enough to accommodate team members who must juggle caregiving and other responsibilities while working from home.

  3. Decision Making: Effective teams have clear decision-making processes, make decisions in a timely fashion and learn from their mistakes to make better decisions going forward.

  4. Trust/Psychological Safety: Team members need to believe that they can take risks, propose ideas and make mistakes, without fear of judgment, for ideas to flourish and innovation to happen. In high-trust environments, teams are motivated to produce their best work and results.

  5. Communication: Effective and clear communication among team members is critical for clarifying goals, roles and responsibilities and for ensuring understanding. Each member must understand what others are saying and their intent. Communicating is more than talking; it is also listening, asking clarifying questions, and dealing with misunderstandings promptly when they arise. Great teams manage conflict within the team. With remote teams, "out of sight/out of mind" can be an issue, so consider regularly scheduled meetings to ensure everyone has what they need.

Of course, it takes more than understanding the key attributes to make teams high-performing. Co-op leaders need to be actively engaged to ensure their remote team's success by:

  1. Increasing communication. The trend when managing remotely tends to be a focus on task-oriented activities. But connecting is equally important. Schedule regular meetings and take some time to ask how the team is doing beyond work-related activities. Let them know what's going on in the organization through emails or conference calls. It's important that they still feel part of the overall organization.

  2. Encouraging them to self-manage. If you've hired the right people, built the right team and provided the right direction, the team will accomplish their goals. It's tempting to jump in to solve team problems or challenges, but recognize that this is a learning experience for team members. High-performing teams master ambiguity, conflict and accountability whether working remotely or on-site.

  3. Demonstrating that they fully support the goals of the team. "Executive sponsors" (someone from top leadership sponsoring or "owning" the project) can be particularly helpful in ensuring project teams have access to the resources they need and in building buy-in for the team's purpose across the organization, whether remote or on-site.

  4. Ensuring clarity of purpose, direction and goals. Moving to remote working requires some adjustments. Reviewing team goals, individual roles and team member responsibilities may require adjustments. It may also require re-prioritizing activities. Be prepared to provide the context and purpose and empower the team to figure out the how. High-performing teams will collaborate as necessary to accomplish their goals.

  5. Provide recognition for a job well done. When we get through this (and we will!), remember that recognition is a huge motivator for teams, as well as individual employees, and acknowledging results is a great way to encourage more fantastic results!

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

Delaine Orendorff leads the NRECA Human Capital Planning and Compensation practice area which provides services to electric cooperatives in the areas of organizational effectiveness, culture design and assessment, leadership development and coaching, performance management, workforce development and succession planning, employee engagement and compensation plan design and development. Prior to her role at NRECA, Delaine worked with a variety of small, mid and large size organizations; including a distribution cooperative and high tech and research and development companies in various Human Resources leadership roles.