14 December, 2019

Treating Teams like Performance Cars

Treating Teams like Performance Cars

Photo Credit: Freewheeling Daredevil

Imagine if teams were cars racing around a racetrack, where lap times are a performance indicator. Each member of the team was a different part of the car - some were the wheels and tyres, others were the engine, some the chassis, and the team leader was the driver behind the wheel. There is a racing team manager and coach giving driving instructions, mechanics, technicians and other specialists (lawyers, accountants) in the pits providing support and information, but the driver has to listen.

All of a sudden a warning light comes on in the dashboard. The driver sees it but ignores it. One of the technicians sees it on his computer, but can’t do anything about it while the car is racing around the track. Soon the car will come in for a pitstop, change of tyres (quarterly check-up) and a bit of fuel (team meeting).

The driver (leader) has a choice:

  • To listen to their technician and take the car (team) off the track to address the issue.
  • Or ignore the warning light at the risk of not finishing the race.

What would you do as a driver (leader) or manager (CEO) of the team?

This is a scenario that is played out in business around the World. As leaders, we make judgment calls about our teams and evaluate the information presented to us. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. Those who get it wrong are often the ones who don’t understand their cars (teams) and how they actually work.

This is why I have taken a lot of time over the last few years to understand the car (leaders and teams) so I can provide better advice and keep my business on the track for better performances. This blog covers one of the big frameworks I use to help evaluate issues.

Parts, Patterns, Performance

A number of years ago I worked a lot with semi-professional athletes to help them increase their performance. The trouble was, some of them got injured in games and we had to work out what parts of the body were actually injured vs a referred pain. We had to get to the root cause of the issue.

As strength and conditioning coaches, we are taught a lot about muscles. But very little education is given around the role our joints play in our ability to move. Our bodies are a stack of joints with muscles and tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues joining it together to enable movement.

All of these PARTS, have to work together in an effective PATTERN, in order to have a superior PERFORMACE outcome.

As soon as one part is broken or injured, then the pattern becomes disrupted, and the ability to perform is reduced.

So let's take this into your team environment.

Performance Leadership

As the leader driving the team, you have to understand how all the different parts of your team are interacting with each other. You are looking out for patterns that are sounding a bit clunky. Maybe there is a bit of a rattle on the right-hand side and this is making the left-hand side work a bit harder.

Or maybe you are not as attentive as you should be to your team, but you are noticing that there is a warning light on your dashboard. Performance is dropping, so you put your foot down harder on the accelerator to speed up.

But two laps later there is smoke coming out the back left as that part of the team becomes completely worn out. Hell, you have got parts of your car falling off now too, as team members literally are letting go and leaving. 

The Leader's Role

As leaders, we are looking for our teams to have incremental increases in their performance. Performance is underpinned by patterns in their daily actions. These patterns are made up of parts.

So as shown above, where there are parts (team members) that are not happy or empowered, then the patterns (team culture) is affected. This in turn will affect the performance of the team and business.

As a leader, you should be looking for broken patterns, as broken patterns means a weakness that needs fixing. It is your responsibility to pull that team member to one side to evaluate the broken pattern and either find the faulty part or refer on to an expert to fix. By continuing to drive with a warning light of decreased performance or a broken pattern is irresponsible. It will result in a broken team with a poor culture.

Special thanks to Greg Dea for explaining these concepts to me a number of years ago. Greg is a World class Performance Physiotherapist and this concept of Parts, Patterns, Performance came from a sport high-performance perspective, which I have adapted for a business perspective in my Art of Business Leadership framework.

© 2019 Paul Mead