In the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Australian men’s swim team were expected to win the 4×100 freestyle finals. After all, they had two swimmers ranked within the top eight in the world, and the other two swimmers were no slouches themselves.
But they didn’t win. They placed third. The US won. Why?
Smart coaching. The US men’s team was selected and arranged to maximize each swimmer’s strengths. Calaeb Dressel’s strength is to build a lead. Michael Phelps’ strength is to grow that lead. Ryan Held keeps the position steady. As the fastest 100m swimmer, Nathan Adrian closes it out because that’s what does best.
In a sport where milliseconds count, the USA coaching staff understood what each person was good at, and used that knowledge to build a winning team. The same theory can be applied at work: by positioning each employee to leverage their strengths, it becomes surprisingly easy to improve team performance. Here are four steps to remember when looking for opportunities to optimize your team:
1. Understand People’s Strengths
Everyone is good at something, like building spreadsheets, presenting information, managing projects, or engaging with other people. Finding out everyone’s strengths may seem daunting at first, but it’s a critical step to improving team performance – and it’s actually easier than you think. Personality assessments that are rooted in science reveal people’s strengths and gaps, and they provide lasting value once they’ve been completed. It’s easy to add an assessment step into your hiring process is an easy step to take, and you’ll end up with a reference that can be used for as long as your employees are with your team. If you need to assess existing members, it takes less than 20 minutes for them to complete an assessment.
Pro Tip: Join our upcoming Lunch & Learn webinar to get some more ideas about strategies to improve team performance!
2. Make a task list
This is an easy one: create a list of all the things that need to get done. That’s it. Simple. What are the projects that are being worked on or coming up, and what are the sub-tasks associated with those projects? Write them down and move on to Step 3.
3. Match Strengths to Tasks
When they started to put the 4×100 freestyle team together, Team USA’s coaches analyzed swimming and personality data to understand where each team member would do best. They looked at each race leg (each task, if you will) and determined how that person’s performance would impact team efficiency overall.
Improving team performance at your workplace is no different: align people’s strengths to a particular task so it can be completed as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Understanding what someone does well, as well as how they do it, will lead to more informed – and more effective – task allocation.
This step is critical. People need to understand (individually and collectively) why decisions have been made so that they can buy in to the philosophy. Otherwise, this becomes a top-down exercise that can easily fall off the rails.
Imagine the Team USA’s swim coaches telling Michael Phelps he’d be swimming third when, in his mind, he’s sure he’d do best if he swam second or last. As a world-renowned athlete, I’d hazard a guess that Phelps might not be too happy if he felt like he couldn’t be trusted to do his job.
The same thing goes at work. Getting everyone on board is a critical strategy to improve team performance. Trust your team and explain what you’re thinking and why, and get feedback. Get buy-in from the team to ensure they’re motivated to work within this new strategy.
Improving team performance doesn’t come overnight, but it isn’t as hard as it might seem. By following these four steps, you’ll be well on your way to taking another look at your team and verifying that they’re positioned to do the best job possible. Plus, you’ll be well-equipped to get new recruits conditioned to the team more effectively. Not bad for four easy steps!