Creating High Performance Teams: What Professional Hockey Can Teach Us

by Saba Software | Posted | Leadership

Creating High Performance Teams: What Professional Hockey Can Teach Us

Today's post comes from Erik Hobbins, Account Executive at Halogen Software. In this article Erik shares why people managers should be held more accountable for the low performance of their teams.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs well underway, it got me thinking about the similarities and differences between people managers and the coaches of sports teams.

Why don’t we hold people managers accountable for team performance the same way we hold the coaches of our favorite sports teams accountable?

Both are responsible for creating high performance teams – inspiring every player to reach their goals and using individual team members' strengths to their advantage. Yet it seems we treat people managers differently than we do coaches when things don’t go as planned.

Let's take a look at how.

Scenario 1: your average organizational department/team

  • 1 manager
  • A bunch of eager employees who are paid well to perform and achieve goals

The team works hard to achieve its goals, but for a whole variety of factors, is unsuccessful. The manager (and the organization) sees the employees’ performance as reason for the failure. Sometimes underperforming employees are “released” or the manager finds other ways to rebuild the team.

Scenario 2: your favorite sports team

  • 1 manager/coach (and perhaps an assistant coach or two)
  • A bunch of professional athletes who are paid a lot of money to perform and win

We've all been there… Your favorite team suffers another disappointing loss and is cut from the playoffs. Then what happens? An announcement that the coach has been fired/replaced. But what about the players who suited up every game and didn’t produce the necessary results?

The reality in sports is that the coach has very little impact on improving the performance of the professional/star athletes on the team.

Would you teach Wayne Gretzky how to pass a different way? Or attempt to teach Michael Jordan how to dunk differently?

Ah, but people managers? There is a lot they can do to improve team performance.

How people managers can inspire high performance

The key trait great leaders share is an ability to motivate others to perform. Before pointing the finger at underperforming employees for not achieving the goals set for them, you might want to ask:

  • Are you clear about goals and expectations?
  • Do you regularly recognize, reward and appreciate high performance?
  • Do your provide opportunities for growth and development?
  • Do you regularly share performance feedback (constructive and positive) with employees?
  • Do you ask employees for feedback on your own performance?
  • Do you work with low performers to create a plan to close skill gaps?

If you find yourself responding “no” to a lot of these questions, it might be time to rethink who’s really to blame for your team’s low performance.

It's also worth noting that HR also plays an integral role in helping people managers become effective coaches. HR should provide managers with the tools and training needed to develop these skills so they know how to create their high performing teams. The key, however, is to ensure managers actually use them.

Like many professional athletes, the average employee will have many different managers across the span of their career. And they’ll always remember the coach or manager that pushed them to excel.

Are you the kind of manager your employees will remember as a dud leader or as a leader who inspired them to greatness?

Your Turn: How do you inspire high performance in your team? Share your comments below.

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