Dating back to our earliest days in management training, we have all been taught that we are to first build a great team, and then the results will just “come.” There are many organizations out there that still operate under this pretense, at least when it suits them, even though the logic behind the statement is flawed. The statement is too simplified and can lead to issues when trying to lead a team through a time of change.
While the idea that great teams will perform better than others is mostly true, that does not mean that a focus on performance right out of the gate is futile. This level of thinking is what leads a lot of people who were once stable in their careers to suddenly become job hoppers; hoping they can find a place that will just give them a blank check and lots of time (months) before any level of accountability is brought to the conversation. This is a problem, as more and more companies are learning that you can perform early on in the process, which will lead to even greater performance once a team has been established.
Another flaw with the classic line of thinking is that it offers a solution is that it doesn’t take into account the constant changes that teams go through in today’s world. A great team today could look entirely different in a year or two, and probably will. Does that mean that all performance should stop while someone hits “reset” on their personnel? Obviously not.
There are always ways to improve performance, and it’s important that the specific areas of the business that can be improved, even early in the team creation process are a huge focus. It is a lot harder to go from minimal focus on performance to a high sense of urgency than it is to keep your urgency around performance the same from day 1, with only the level of performance expectations changing. Your approach to performance should be steady, with the occasional ebb and flow that the business will put you though. Your targets, expectations, and goals will change; but if you attempt to change your approach, you may find that the “great team” you thought you had isn’t so great after all. Some people can handle a strong performance manager as a leader, others cannot. Unless you have a crystal ball, the only way you’ll be able to know who can handle this type of environment is to see it in action.
While the basis for much of our earlier leadership training isn’t totally wrong, it can cause a lot of harm if taken too literal. Great teams do great things, there’s no doubt, but the idea that nothing matters until you’ve got what you consider to be a “great” group working with you is preposterous.
In business, performance rules all, as it should. If you do not set high performance standards from the beginning, at least in the areas in which can be controlled without having a solid team, you will have a hard time ever developing a team that is built to last. The chicken comes first in this scenario, contrary to what many of us have been taught. The sooner you catch onto this, the easier your careers will be during transitional periods.