The digital age, the pertinence of the Millennial workforce and the diversity of global trade are driving a new organisational flexibly. High performing companies are amending their business structures, shifting from the traditional functional hierarchy towards a network of teams.
The system of interconnected units is fluid, with people moving from team to team rather than remaining in static formal configurations.
This new model of work is obliging leadership to reconsider assumptions about feedback, appraisals and sharing of knowledge as keys to performance.
Traditional Performance Management is being turned on its head
The 2017 Global Human Capital Trends reports that, across industries and geographies, many companies are redesigning performance management. The new performance approach wants to improve discussions, create frequent check-ins and facilitate a culture of development.
Hierarchically structured businesses were developed around traditional management thinking, says Stacia Sherman Garr, in which leaders “tell people what to do, set goals, and create standards.”
Garr is a researcher and thought leader on talent management, leadership, diversity and inclusion, people analytics, and HR technology.
In contrast, she says, in the model of an interconnected network of teams, goals are set at the bottom. Leaders are evaluated by team performance and not span of control, and Performance Management occurs continuously rather than once per year.
Thus, Performance Management is transforming from boosting an individual employee’s performance to improving the results of the team. If the team wins, the employee wins. If the team wins, the company wins.
Psychological safety is the precursor of non-threatening peer-to-peer assessment
To prevent silos from obstructing success, and to mobilise collective thinking, management should overtly motivate team members to seek feedback from each other.
Providing feedback isn’t exclusively the team leader’s responsibility, says Mary Shapiro who lectures in organisational behaviour and is the author of the HBR Guide to Leading Teams. Management needs to set an expectation of shared leadership responsibility within the team.
Leaders should also put structures in place to facilitate intra-team (and inter-team) learning. Pooling cerebral capacity amalgamates numerous different vantage points into one narrative.
Interconnected feedback opens a whole new dimension of scope. It offers a birdseye view of relationships between elements to identify patterns. At the same time, it also deconstructs a narrative to allow thought experiments with different possibilities.
Trust is the axis of genuine interconnected feedback, says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google. Emotional safety is the precursor to trust.
A vast two-year study on team performance confirmed that high-performing – or Elite Teams have one thing in common: psychological safety. The confidence that they won’t be penalised when they make a mistake.
Moreover, research shows that psychological safety facilitates appropriate risk-taking, robust communication, assertiveness and creativity amongst team members. When people speak their minds, they challenge each other. When the culture is challenging but not threatening, teams can sustain the broaden-and-build mode.
Broaden-and-build: cultivating inter-team and cross-functional feedback
The broaden-and-build mode paves the way towards a culture of comfortability with critique within the team. Feedback amongst fellow team members become the norm and is not perceived as threatening. Team members are comfortable to share their evaluation without being prompted to do so. The other side of the same coin is that team members are also self-motivated to ask for assessment and support.
Asking for feedback disarms potential conflict, illuminates blind spots in communication skills and models fallibility. These factors increase trust amongst peers.
Cross-functional team feedback amongst peers expand the entire organisation’s learning spectrum – and opportunities for growth – even further. Inter-team feedback sets the various teams up for a myriad of interchangeable scenarios. For example, a member who is a follower in one group might be in a (provisional) leadership role in another (temporary) task unit.
Cross-functional team feedback between peers also promotes interpersonal understanding, breaks stereotypes and builds camaraderie.
Kenan Flagler Business School says that team members who feel closely connected, and who have had the opportunity to learn about each other’s goals, are more likely to understand the role each team member plays.
In turn, this makes it more likely that they will plan their work together. Individual personalities gel; informal groups within the team may pull forces to solve a singular problem which overlaps on each of their to-do lists. This kind of collaboration enables the team members to maximize their individual and collective goal attainment, leading to stronger performance.
The benefits of informal and ongoing peer-to-peer feedback
Feedback between team members can take on a formal and informal structure. The official peer review has its place in an Elite Team, but research is definitive on the power of informal feedback amongst fellow team members. It strengthens trust between team members as well as between team members and leadership. It not only authorises the team as a unit but also empowers each of its members; it demonstrates leadership’s belief in the members’ professional abilities and self-regulation.
Leadership shares some of the managerial pressure with the team, evening out the balance of power. Self-regulation compels the team to empathise with leadership’s concerns and interests.
It also offers a certain degree of discretion – if somebody is battling with a specific problem, that person might not feel comfortable sharing their predicament with the entire team, or with management. Instead, the individual facing the impediment could consult with a specific team member, or members, who will be able to help them resolve the issue discreetly.
The digital revolution helps teams stay aligned. A successful feedback network brings together disparate information on customers or products to give team members integrated data on performance in real-time. Teams use mobile apps to share goals, keep up to date, communicate concerns and build a shared culture. Additionally, team members are empowered to make and act on decisions based on shared information.
Elite Teams create and practice an open feedback culture. They provide and receive evaluations habitually – regardless of position and tenure. Critique is handled in a way that improves the team’s effectiveness and deepens their relationships.
Leadership can set the pace by overtly asking for feedback from team members, responding with positivity when they receive it, and incorporating the feedback into work behaviours.
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