Transforming the Team: Five Weeks to Improved Performance

The UKG Workforce Institute is excited to kick off a collaborative, culture-focused effort with Ankura called “Transforming the Team.” Each week, for the next five weeks, guest contributor Mark Cappellino from the Ankura Talent Advisory team, along with UKG Workforce Institute advisory board member and Ankura colleague John Frehse, will provide actionable strategies and weekly exercises to help leaders transform their cultures, starting at the individual and team levels.

This work is part of a collaboration inside The Culture Lab at Ankura, where experts from different fields come together to tell a more impactful story about business outcomes. For this session, Mark, John, and a range of leaders from other disciplines help leaders better understand team dynamics and dysfunction. Most importantly, what to do about it to drive operational performance.

Properly assessing team performance and how we operate inside our professional ecosystems is long overdue. To understand why we don’t get the results we want from ourselves and our team members, we need to take a new look at our approach to teams. The traditional, feel-good approach to team dynamics is so flawed, it actually drives negative outcomes. With a thoughtful approach and a clear understanding of team dynamic realities, we can stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

Step 1: Stop being creative! That is for two-year-olds. They work outside of rational constructs and are not concerned with results — or the performance of a team. Be innovative, where you understand the possibilities and limitations of the ecosystem in which you operate. Self-described “progressive thinkers” feel that, by being kind to one another, the team will “just work” and we don’t need to apply science — that is too impersonal. Unfortunately, kindness does not yield results on its own and structure is required. Remember, in most cases, the people on your team at work are not of your choosing and they come with different experiences, beliefs, and actions — often yielding a wide range of different results.

Step 2: Find a cohort! Find a group of individuals willing to innovate with you. Go on this five-week journey as a team, building individual relationships while debating the relevance of these teachings in your own ecosystem. What works, what doesn’t, and what have you learned about one another through this process to build stronger, trusting relationships and a better team?

Step 3: Read the Short Content Every Week! We are limiting this to a five-part miniseries, even though there is an unlimited number of topics to cover related to team dynamics and performance. Each week, over the next five weeks — in partnership with the UKG Workforce Institute — we will release a short, foundational article to apply in your own workplace and debate with your coworkers/cohort.

Here is a brief preview of our scheduled topics over the next five weeks:

  • Week One: Teambuilding: Save Your Money
  • Week Two: The One and Only Team Dysfunction
  • Week Three: Why Talk Relationships at Work?
  • Week Four: Innovating with Conflict
  • Week Five: For Leaders: How to Preempt Performance Dips

Let’s get to it!

Week One: Teambuilding — Save Your Money

Don’t waste another unproductive hour on teambuilding.

Avoid the ropes course and save your team from the pain and suffering of the infamous “trust fall.” Historically, teambuilding exercises are a waste of time where nothing changes, at least not for any significant amount of time. But why is this?

A team is a network of 1:1 relationships. Not a group of people. By failing to recognize this reality, the drum circles will continue, the escape rooms will remain full, and team disfunction will continue to dominate the halls of corporations.

Build Individual Relationships

Effective teambuilding is essentially building those 1:1 relationships, and a lot of them. What often passes for teambuilding is an external solution imposed on a group of people referred to as a “team.” Typically, that solution overlooks the individualized learning required within each 1:1 relationship. This includes shared experiences that help form shared beliefs. 

How often have you participated in a teambuilding workshop and agreed with the topics or insights (e.g., dysfunctions) that are presented, but you did not learn anything new that, if applied, would improve your team’s performance? I’ve often asked, “If a team determines that it needs to be more collaborative, where do you ‘apply the wrench’?” In other words, if a team is going to learn to become more collaborative, where does this learning happen?

All learning is individual and is applied, in this case, uniquely within 1:1 relationship.

Generally speaking, our professional relationships are with individuals and not the corporations where they work. This is because personal connections allow us to build trust and understanding — something much harder to do with a corporation. When you need help from your HR team, the level of service may be tied to relationship bias. If you have a relationship with someone in the office, they are more likely to give you the highest level of service and attention.

Even inside of Ankura, where we are proud of the talent we have assembled, we call trusted partners in the firm when our clients require expertise outside of our practice groups, instead of making general requests. When we needed help with a client’s complex financial-reporting function, we called Karen Fletcher from our Office of the CFO team, instead of emailing the entire group. We know her personally and we trust her with our client’s needs. This didn’t just happen. Karen worked on several other matters and built a working relationship with the Talent Advisory team.

Measurable team performance is the culmination of all that transpires in the conversations within the relationships among team members. It is the sum of all of the parts of the network of relationships we refer to as “team.”

If a team is performing well, it is a reflection of the design (think prenuptial) of the 1:1 relationships that facilitate the conversations. In effect, teambuilding requires we design and build each of our relationships within our team one at a time. In this way, the building blocks of “team” are our 1:1 relationships. 

This Requires Effort — Is It Worth It?

Yes, this is hard work. That is why so many companies plan field trips instead of doing the hard work. It is much easier to go on the retreat than to tackle the individual relationship building required for high-performing teams. Is it worth it? The answer is, of course it is. As the saying goes, anything worth doing will take effort. That’s what this five-week course is all about: making the commitment to do the hard work — and reap the rewarding results. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

This Week’s Exercise: Take time to get to know an individual on your team you have never had a 1:1 conversation with — by having coffee, discussing interests, or asking questions.

Next week, we continue our five-part series with a focus on trust — or lack thereof — in the workplace.

Want to learn more great strategies for your company culture and your people? Join John Frehse and Dr. Jarik Conrad, executive director of the UKG Workforce Institute, for a live conversation about culture on September 6, at 1:00 p.m. ET. Register now for “The Culture Lab: Exploring Cultural Norms That Diminish Human Performance and Cause Top Performers to Resign.”