Changing team members to improve performance

Sport continues to provide some excellent team scenarios that all leaders can learn from. I have used football management as a source of inspiration before and there was more useful advice earlier this year. Sam Allardyce is the current manager of West Ham United FC. He was talking about the realism needed about expectations once major changes have been made to a squad. He used the example of making 9 changes to a group of players and the fact that it takes time to bed down the team. He was forthright about the fact that club owners view changing team members to be a magic bullet to improve results. Rightly, he said that it takes time to do the team building activities required to bring people together and raise performance to the level expected.

So what does that mean for leaders in business? As in football, in business team members need to feel valued and it takes time to build the mutual trust required for mutual reliance. The key thing is spending time together planning, training and testing so that everyone knows how people are going to react to scenarios and who best to use in given circumstances.

It also means that if there are changes to an established group – whether it is performing well or not – there needs to be a period of bedding in. Leaders need to invest in the team, both time and money, for development activities to reduce the time and lost performance that will be the impact of the changes. Even if a leader brings in people who are high performers to drive a step change in delivery, then it will still take time for the everyone to come together and find the new level.

A personal example of this: I used to the in the Royal Navy and the policy was for “trickle drafting” so a ship’s company was always gradually changing. This meant that things were always in a bit of flux in the team. It was only when the ship was deployed and the crew was static for 6 or so months that the team properly came together, aired the issues that needed to be raised and resolved, and learned to trust and rely on each other. The change in atmosphere when the ship returned to the UK and the team started to change again was marked and very rarely positive. It often took significant amounts of training and practice to return the ship to the state of performance it had before.

In summary: if you are changing your team, particularly to improve results, then do not expect progress to happen instantaneously. There is lots of work to be done to take the team to its new level.