3 Ways to Assess Your Team’s Potential

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.


Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2018

Wonder how good your team actually is, or how good it can be?

There is a lot written on what makes teams successful – just Google it –  it makes for some interesting reading. There are certainly a lot of skilled practitioners out there doing good work who have strong advice about what helps. However, research showing causality between a specific factor or condition and high or improved performance is harder to find. The research findings vary for different teams in different contexts and this is mainly because there are so many variables that can contribute to, or detract from making a team successful.

Our own experience has led us to develop a simple model to assess how teams are operating and where their greatest potential for improvement lies. We continue to test it with teams ourselves and compare it to what others are claiming leads to team performance.  This model underpins the self-assessment surveys we use to enable teams to look at themselves and develop their path to high performance.  The teams we work with tell us it is very helpful – so we thought we would share it with you.

The model contains three overarching elements that we call performance lenses. These are:

1. Strategy – Does the team have a clear pathway to success?

2. Team – Does the team agree on what and how it needs to work together for maximum benefit?

3. Leadership – Does the team know how to get the best from each member of the team?

Let’s look at each of these in more depth to see where your team might have potential to focus on improving:


1. Strategy – Does your team have a clear pathway to success?

Teams are usually made up of people who love to get things done. People love to feel like they are achieving and accomplishing useful work. Team members, and in turn teams are motivated by this.

So, if a team is just going through the motions, or not really getting a lot of important work accomplished together, in a visible way, there is probably a ton of unrealised potential.

We see lots of teams whose members work in a disjointed or disconnected way from each other. Which means they aren’t working as a unit and you could ask if they are really a team. To be a real team, the members need to become aligned around what work is important and how best to accomplish it together.

What this means is that teams need a collective view of what success or great performance looks like. This picture should be aspirational – not something easily achieved. We suggest that this requires them to have a common understanding of who they serve and what their customers and key stakeholders would be thrilled by.

But understanding the ideal is not sufficient on its own. The team then needs collective goals that will move them towards this agreed ideal, and to achieve these goals they need to agree common priorities and measures.

Without these basic elements in place, teams may be able to function and do the basics required, but they are operating at far from their potential.

So, the first performance lens we look through to assess current and potential performance is Strategy – does the team have a clear pathway to success?  If not, the team needs to determine the important things that it needs to achieve and how it will do this.

2. Team – Does your team agree on what and how it needs to work together for maximum benefit?

Most teams don’t spend a lot of time (if any) on discussing how they can best collaborate. Some agree the meetings they will attend together,  and may discuss what they should talk about at those meetings, but many teams don’t really even do this – they just follow on from what has been done before.

Through this lens we help teams assess whether working on how they collaborate offers potential performance improvements for them. Collaboration is generally harder than working independently so we need to be careful about clarifying where and how the team needs to work together.

Great teams understand why they are a team and are clear about how they want to work. This includes being clear about how the team will conduct its meetings, how decisions will be made, and how and what will be communicated inside and outside of the team.  The team is also clear on the things they will need to collaborate on and the things the team needs to avoid trying to do together. The team is also clear on the behaviours that the team members feel are important to role model and can rely on from one another.

When many or even some of these elements are missing, team members can prefer to remain in silos. Conflict and chaos can destroy the team. And they will probably never reach that elusive and high-performance state we call synergy.

So ‘Team’ is our second performance lens. Is your team clear about what it needs to work on as a team and how it can do this in a way that is both efficient and brings the maximum value of the team?

3. Leadership – Does your team know how to get the best from each member of the team?

Your team’s current and potential team performance can be assessed by how well each team member is contributing to help achieve the team’s priorities and goals. We can assess each team member by asking them how they feel and also asking the other members about their contribution.

Teams are a collection of people who come together for a common purpose and to achieve common goals. If those members are under-performing or not doing enough to help the team for whatever reason, the team is also less likely to perform well. So, what can you do to ensure you get the best from each member?

Team members are, after all, just people and we know that people are positively impacted when they feel highly valued and deeply appreciated. People are motivated to work harder and give discretionary effort where others appreciate what they bring and the work that they do.

Teams need a clear process to understand what each of its members can bring to the table to help the team’s performance. This includes what the member brings of their own, and if they are leading a team themselves, what their functional team can contribute.

Some of the things a team should learn about each member includes the work they do and how that contributes to achieving the team’s goals, what motivates them personally, what they see as their strengths, how they like to work with others, the work they prefer and the work they prefer to avoid.

If the team member is also a leader of a team, they should share how their team’s work, skill set and resources can best contribute to the achievement of higher team goals.

Conversely, each team member also needs to hear and understand what the team needs from them (and their functional area or team). This can include things such as specific skill areas, behaviours and what and how that member should communicate and represent the team to the wider organisation and its stakeholders.

Final Thoughts

So that’s it.  We suggest you can use this simple three performance lens model – Strategy, Team and Leadership – to assess your team’s current and potential performance. It will help you focus in on the areas your team can make improvements to lift performance.

You can find out a bit more about our process for team improvement at www.updraft.co

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