Enhancing Team Performance

by Cynthia Adams, Ed.D., LICSW

Where To Begin
Establish Core Values
Families can use eight steps to find their Core Values
Define a Mission Statement
Develop a Strategic Plan
Implement Task-Force Teams

Family business teams can learn a lot from the great teams in sports. Here, a consultant who has helped both explains how families can apply the techniques sports teams use to enhance performance. For families, there are four primary tasks: Establish core values, a mission statement, a strategic plan, and task-forces to resolve issues.

There is an emotional energy, an intensity, which marks the most successful teams in sports. Emotional energy is also at the heart of a family business. The loyalty, devotion, and commitment that family members share explains why many family businesses succeed. They have core values that underlie their decision-making, customer service, and integrity. And they are likely to have employees who say they feel "like part of the family," part of the team.

The analogy works in reverse, too. Sports teams that compare themselves to family are often the ones that become champions. Team members who demonstrate high levels of social cohesion ultimately experience consistent levels of success. The most shining example of this dynamic is the U.S. women's soccer team, which won the 1999 Women's World Cup. In numerous media interviews leading up to and, following their final win over China, members of the team repeatedly attributed a large part of their success to feeling like an extended family. Team members consistent1y ate meals together, shopped together, partied together, and even appeared for photo-shoots together, downplaying individual stardom and promoting the greater impact of the entire team.

Given the close parallels to great sports teams, it seems likely that families in business can learn from their athletic counterparts. According to consultants who have advised both professional sports teams and family businesses, the most direct lesson lies in how to enhance team performance - whether the family team is just forming, or has been working together (perhaps not altogether smoothly) for some time.

Many Olympic and professional athletes and coaches have used sports psychologists to help them enhance performance. Universities have committed enormous time and resources to increasing the knowledge about performance enhancement training. The concept of performance enhancement is itself derived from drive and achievement theory in traditional psychology. As competition pressures in the business world climb steadily, heightened employee performance and focus on team development have become primary survival strategies in corporate America. Companies are devoting increasing resources to training their leaders and employees to sharpen their communication, leadership, and team-building skills.

The common thread in enhancing team performance in business and sport is the desire to win. In business, winning means meeting or beating chosen metrics, such as increased profit or improved market share. But in family business, there is an even higher goal: improving the cohesion of the family, so the business will be there for generations to come.

Where To Begin

The one prerequisite for a family wishing to enhance its team performance is good communication. A family must consider the style and pathways of communication that are operating in the business. Many families have a closed system; family members carry the business’ financial and strategic information close to their chest. The information is viewed as sensitive, only to be entrusted to a chosen few, such as the long-standing accountant, attorney, or board member.

Families that want to enhance their team performance have to share information, and therefore must assess their level of comfort with doing so. In order for family members-and key employees to function as effective team members, they must have access to information, and be willing to share it. If family members are resistant to this, it would be wise to defer any attempts at team-building.

Family members can agree on what information they are willing to share, then they can move forward. All family members who have some degree of ownership or managerial control should become involved with the team-building effort. Once everyone is ready, then four steps can be taken to lay the groundwork for strong team performance:

  1. Review or establish family business core values.
  2. Define a mission statement.
  3. Develop a strategic plan that includes overall company goals as well as departmental and individual objectives.
  4. Implement task-force teams to resolve specific issues in the business.

Establish Core Values

It is easy to forget why we do what we are doing. Family business members who allow themselves the time to explore why they are in business together are able to recreate the essence and meaning of not only the purpose of their work, but also of the relationships they share. This is the heart of any team.

The core values of a family business lead its strategy, tactics, and operation. Consistently adhering to them supports vision and decision-making. Without agreed-upon core values, the chances increase for conflict and irregular decision-making. For example, one media company relied on its core value of "integrity" to reverse a near-decision that could have caused complications among its customers. Several family managers had come up with the idea to decrease the cost of certain items to first-time customers, while keeping the prevailing cost for pre-existing customers. Management was a bit confounded but decided to okay it. But then the family members doubled back and said, "You know what? This goes against our core value of integrity." They lowered the price for everyone, and in the end, believe they sold more products than if they had kept the two-tier structure.

Families can use eight steps to find their core values:

  1. Get family members active in the business to participate in defining values.
  2. Consider the participation of nonfamily managers.
  3. Set aside time each week to meet. Three or four meetings of perhaps two hours each will be needed. Make sure that the section is free from distractions.
  4. Use both problem-solving and brainstorming techniques to allow for an open discussion about possible core values.
  5. After everyone feels ready, narrow down an initial list of values to the four or five that are most significant to the participants.
  6. Decide on a principle that addresses each value. Draft a statement that characterizes each value, such as: "Integrity: Our commitment to remain consistent and fair in all business decisions."
  7. Consider small group discussions with employees to get feedback regarding the validity of the values in the workplace.
  8. Seek to integrate the core values into the workplace. Ask the participants how the business should discuss the values with employees. Some companies hold an open forum in which leaders propose the values and present how they were developed. Others send out a memo and post the values at an entrance to the business, even print them on coffee mugs.

What is most important is that the core values become active in the daily operations of the business. A successful core-values project ends when family members and employees feel that they are grounded in a strong, clear business philosophy.

It is worth noting that the exercise of defining core values has the potential to bring family members and nonfamily employees closer together. Core values state explicitly what might be felt and acted on within the business implicitly. They also let family members and employees recognize when they are venturing, off into unsafe territory. The task of setting core values itself will improve team unity, and thus performance.

Define a Mission Statement

The process of drafting a mission statement is similar to that for core values. The same people usually participate, and the project has similar time requirements. What is interesting about this exercise is that it allows employees to identify a focus for the business. Most family businesses are successful because they have been able to develop a niche where their talents and services are highly valued and trusted rather than trying to chase after random opportunities or short-term goals. Baseball teams that win the World Series don't focus on winning just next week's game. And they try not to get distracted by focusing on team standings or even division titles. Their mission is to try to perform consistently and stay focused on what they do well.

Businesses often falter because they try to be too many things to too many people. Creating a working mission statement allows the family business to focus in on what it does well and why. It also allows nonfamily employees to understand clearly the mission of the business they serve.

Develop a Strategic Plan

Many company bookshelves are adorned with the remnants of untested and incomplete strategic plans. Even when created with great time and money, these masterpieces are often like Ph.D. dissertations, read only by those who write them. Ideally, a strategic plan should be an active working document, indeed a process workbook for the family business. To enhance team performance, two areas of strategic planning need to be addressed: task cohesion and social cohesion.

It has been well established in sports that for a team to remain successful over time, two attributes must be present: task cohesion, and social cohesion. Task cohesion is the development of specific objectives and strategies that are agreed to and adhere to by all participants. Social cohesion has to do with the process or the atmosphere in which these task objectives are accomplished.

A good example is the 1995 Boston University men's hockey team. When the season began, the players and coaches met and agreed that their primary task was to win the NCAA championship. During the season, a game lost or an injury sustained never swayed their focus on this greater task.

Although the team had done very well the prior year, it nonetheless instituted a few processes to a1ter the team atmosphere, in an attempt to create better social cohesion. The team met often not to race around the ice, but to talk about how to work better together. Each player also committed to stepping up in every practice and game. These group activities and personal commitments created greater social cohesion. As the season progressed, senior players who had been on the prior year's team said they "felt closer to this group of guys." In the end, the team won the championship.

A family business might have the most talented brightest computer software writers in their industry, for example, but if they don't get along, or work well together because of competing interests or inflated egos, the individuals' agendas will be served more than the interest of the business. Before long, the individuals will exert such force on the business that something will have to give. The atmosphere becomes toxic or volatile, and employees leave. At a minimum, if task and social cohesion are not attained, employees feel confused and ambivalent about the workplace. They come to work only to get a paycheck, and their contributions are mediocre.

In business, task cohesion comes down to setting financial and technical goals. These are most effective if woven into the company's overall business strategies. The same is true for the processes of social cohesion. The following five steps, carried out by family members and nonfamily managers, can help:

  1. Set up educational meetings for all employees so they can assimilate and understand what the financial and technical tasks mean to them.
  2. Encourage managers to schedule strategic planning sessions with members of their department, which result in department goals that support the overall business strategies.
  3. Have managers create a performance review for their departments so that individual employees can determine their own goals and objectives in support of department and company goals.
  4. Hold monthly, departmental strategic-planning follow-up sessions to assess how the plan is working or where things are falling short.
  5. Have managers give monthly feedback to individual employees on performance issues.

Implement Task-Force Teams

A family business is a complex system. Most of the work day is spent dealing with business problems, customer requests or complaints, or workplace issues such as employee needs, performance, or vacations. However, there are many challenges that are never addressed because there seems to be no time. Employee morale, technical problem-solving, and communication are all examples of items that get moved to the back burner, to be addressed "later." Task-force teams are a great way to schedule the time and resources to resolve these kinds of issues which, if left to simmer, can undermine social cohesion, a company's mission, even its core values.

  1. A task-force team comes together for a limited period of time to resolve a specific issue. Some guidelines for assembling, a task-force team include:
  2. Limit the team to five or six people who are "experts" on the issue. Include a family member if appropriate to the challenge at hand.
  3. Bring together individuals from different areas who would be able to understand the difficulty from different perspectives.
  4. Limit meetings to about an hour.
  5. Reach agreement on the number of meetings that should be required in order to develop an option or suggestion to management.
  6. Keep minutes and a record of action steps with specific deadlines and names of responsible parties.
  7. Assign a sponsor for the task-force team, or a person whose role is to keep management informed of the team's progress.
  8. Encourage the team to discuss the process of working together and the feelings and responsibilities of being a task-force team member.
  9. Make sure that all employees are aware that the team is meeting, and that they know who to contact if they have suggestions or ideas to contribute.
  10. Have management recognize and support the team's effort both during the process and after it reaches its objective.
  11. Have management utilize the task-force team's suggestions.

Task-Force teams are a great way to involve many talented and conscientious employees in solving business problems and challenges. They can boost morale and lead to successful business performance.

The establishment of a team-oriented workplace can benefit the family business in many ways. Core values, mission statements, strategic plans, and taskforce teams can help create an atmosphere of collaboration, admiration, and shared purpose. Any organization able to experience these valuable assets is well on its way to increasing its performance.

By permission of the publisher from Building Strong Family Teams. Family Business Publishing Company, Philadelphia, http://www.fambus.com