Date posted: 21/10/2020 3 min read

Top tips for creating high-performing teams

Social science researchers reveal how to build high-performing teams in an event organised by CA ANZ.

In Brief

  • Meetings can be made more productive with simple tweaks
  • Empathetic leadership and supportive colleagues are more important than money for most team members
  • Better results can be achieved by setting achievable expectations tailored to the aptitude of team members

Identifying shared goals and prioritising work for everyone can help create high-performing teams, boost productivity and raise the morale of the entire organisation, according to social science researchers.

Carl Davidson, chief social scientist at Research First Ltd, and Dave Sewell, neuro-leadership researcher and a published author, have tapped into the latest brain science around stress and distraction and will share their tips for building high-performing teams during a CA ANZ event.

"The world has changed, and so have the team members returning to work," Sewell says. Everybody has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic differently and a bit of extra empathy from team leaders can set a solid foundation for a high-performing team.

"They may have been impacted in different ways and would appreciate a leader who does not expect them to resume where they left off.

"Inside most offices, COVID-19 has only exacerbated problems, not created new ones.

"Most work is not mission critical, and it's important to prioritise it for the whole team rather than setting unrealistic expectations. Figure out what needs to be done first so that everyone is happy."

Scott Wagenvoord, the CA ANZ regional manager for New Zealand's South Island, adds that a lack of productivity is becoming a common complaint among members.

"As part of our effort to understand challenges for members of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand in the aftermath of the pandemic, a shortfall of productive team members has emerged as a recurring theme. However, the solution lies closer to home than we realise," he says.

Davidson points to the drain on productivity caused by distractions. "We are as wired to it as we are to sugar and fat," he says. "We are busier than ever before with far too many distractions. Simplifying the day holds the key to having a successful one."

Here are the duo's top five tips for a motivated, high-performing and cohesive team:

  • It's about time management – yours and others

Each team member may have a different circadian rhythm, thus varying the time of the day when they are most productive, Davidson says.

"It would benefit the team to allow each member to set aside time for high-intensity work and allow them the flexibility to carve out their focus time," he says.

"Meet when required. The rest of the time, have your heads down and get stuff done."

He also advocates factoring in regular down time for each team, even on a daily basis.

"Scientifically referred to as 'cognitive recovery time', this is when the brain can relax to learn, assimilate and innovate better," he says, and suggests allowing time for calming activities such as breath control to improve overall productivity.

  • Rethink productivity

Davidson maintains that open-plan offices are detrimental to productivity.

The same volume of work that requires eight hours to achieve in the office can be accomplished in five hours at home, he says, citing a lack of interruptions and the ability to focus as primary reasons.

Davidson references University of California, Irvine, research that shows it takes an average of 23 minutes for workers to return to their prior level of performance following an interruption.

University of Michigan research shows that participants who were interrupted for just three seconds were twice as likely to make a mistake on their original task as those who were not interrupted.

"Thankfully, these findings are now being viewed constructively," Davidson says. "So, be unabashed in putting up the 'do-not-disturb' sign, go offline, or put on noise-cancelling headphones if you are trying to get through serious work. Make it clear to colleagues when you are available for meetings and interactions."

Where possible, provide breakout rooms in offices and allow team members to work from home to get work done, he suggests.

  • Rethink meetings

I have too few office meetings to attend, said nobody ever.

While they are unavoidable, meetings can be made more productive with simple fixes, the duo point out.

A clear purpose for the meeting is a good starting point, as is deciding the attendees. Many would be happy to just be informed of outcomes via emails.

Not scheduling back-to-back meetings, especially with external stakeholders is an easy way to increase engagement. It's also best to avoid scheduling meetings for end-of-day when teams are usually trying to close off jobs.

To ensure they conclude on time, the duo suggest experimenting with conducting meetings standing up.

As for internal ones, Sewell suggests good leaders should speak last. Kicking off the meeting with a no H-A-L-T (hungry-angry-lonely-or-tired) check-in would ensure all attendees are feeling productive, adds Davidson.

  • Be understanding

It is critical for leaders to like their team members to be able to lead them well, Sewell points out. "To be able to do that, the leader needs to understand what motivates each of them, and where their aptitudes and interests lie."

Even the ability to absorb work-related stress is different for each employee and a tailored approach through such periods would keep the morale high for the entire team.

  • Play fair

Both scientists advise against monetary motivation and rewarding good work with selective bonuses, which they say are designed to fail. "People work hard because they like the work or the team. Where possible, reward the entire team equally," they say.

Finally, each team member should be able to hold the others accountable for what they promised to do, concludes Sewell.

Building Knowledge Christchurch

Hear more from Carl Davidson and Dave Sewell at the upcoming event highlighting some great management practices with the help of brain science.

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