Category: Leadership Development
Content type: Insight

Gaining Altitude – Leading High Performance Dispersed Teams

“It’s all about gaining altitude” said William Winstone as he framed the second in our four-module Leading in New Worlds programme “The ability to zoom in and out gives us different perspectives and a different relationship with the ground we work on – a bit like Google maps!” he added.

As much of the world now enters another lockdown, it is tempting to give way to feelings of dread and weariness.  Not again, we say!  But for especially for leaders, never was it more important to find ways to keep our spirits up and guide ourselves and our people through these confusing and ominous times.

However, the way you were leading before the pandemic is not the route to success now, with teams are dispersed and people on edge.

The theme of Module 2 was not just how to lead dispersed teams but how, even against the odds, to lead them to high performance:

 

A group of people with specific focus and complementary talents and skills aligned with and committed to a common purpose who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation.

We plunged in at the top as John Anderson described his first-hand experience of working with Team GB. In 1996 in Atlanta Team GB won one gold medal and were placed 37th in the Olympic table. In 2016 in Rio Great Britain won 67 gold medals plus 147 in the Paralympics and were placed 2nd in the table. Team GB is the epitome of a dispersed team: 23 different sports, 10 different sporting venues and 166 athletes who met as an entity only 5 days before the opening. So how did they work their way to this success?

To explore this the session was framed around 4 key elements: understand the principles and habits that underpin high-performing dispersed teams; become aware of your team’s strengths and development opportunities; develop your own model for creating such a team; and turn these into application and action. 

So what can we learn from Team GB’s achievement? Firstly, clarity of purpose – this forges team identity and is role modelled by the leader, who is also key in creating the environment: the team will attune to the leader’s mood and this is as true online as it is in person. Especially now when everyone is facing personal challenges, a leader who knows what’s going on for everyone will create psychological safety and encourage confidence. Through listening and developing the talent of each individual – often through coaching – people naturally become more open, more team oriented and more focussed on results.

It may seem paradoxical given current external pressures, but raising the bar for a dispersed team through ambitious performance goals is important in giving everyone a powerful direction to focus on. Further elements for success are mutual accountability – being here for each other – adaptability and alignment.  These could be summed up by the British army model: vision, support and challenge.

Furnished with these powerful examples participants discussed their own experiences and how they were adopting often new behaviours: giving members more autonomy and flexibility; understanding the risk in virtual meetings for communication misunderstandings and addressing these quickly. Increasing 1-1 contact is another critical factor in helping a dispersed team become more effective.

Over and again all threads lead back to communication. As we shared the maps of our team – our ‘Google zoom-outs’ – we found this to be the common factor, whether communicating upwards, down or with peers, whether dealing with issues of non-alignment, low performance of lack of purpose, the foundation stones were always communication: talk it through, speak truth where needed, be honest while holding the dual focus of building supportive relationships and a strong vision. Your team will flourish!

 

We’re running a new Leading in New Worlds Programme in early 2021 – email hello@mezzanapartners.com for more details.

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