High Functioning Fundamentals


As an uninitiated 16 year old I entered into the catering profession all wide-eyed and eager, hoping to find an enjoyable and inspiring profession that combined fulfilling work, meaningful relationships and fun…..

The nightmare that was my first job is seared in my memory; the patriarchal family owned hotel whose owner insisted that my daily toothbrush cleaning of the toilets and spot cleaning the banqueting suite carpet would be a great apprenticeship (and something to fill the 14 hour days with). Whilst high-standards were a great aspiration and accomplishment, the cost was that it was an utterly miserable place to work. I lasted 2 months before I hit the streets in search of a new employer.

Job number two was a completely different proposition. After a bit of bare face “I can do that….” cheek, I landed the role of the grill chef in a busy American diner – Goodies Bar-B-Q Bar. Instantly I was immersed into a completely different family and it became not only a job that I looked forward to but one that I fully committed to. The experience filled me up, I loved it, I worked every shift I could and was rewarded with rubbish pay (but good tips) and a group of colleagues who helped me really understand how to have fun, find work fulfilling and create meaningful relationships.

So what’s the secret? There was no interviewing panel (or even interview for that matter), talent pipeline or succession planning. The owner based his recruitment decisions on how potential employees struck up a conversation – he would literally make a decision based on a 5 minute chat. And if he didn’t think that he was the best person to make a decision he would hand that decision over to another member of the team – they had complete autonomy to hire and would be supported unreservedly. I was hired with no experience, no reference, no training and no qualifications. The benchmark for a new team members was a willingness to learn, enthusiasm and energy; the grill-chef skills I needed were an add-on, something that a confident team knew that I would learn on the job.

The secret is pretty simple; if you really understand the dynamic, functional nature of your team, it’s easy to recruit people who will not only flourish but positively contribute to the success of the team. The opposite is also true; a team of aspirational individuals may be hell–bent on achieving high performance but without meaningful connections with the rest of the team they can quickly become a group of self-serving individuals.

Every team member contributes to the effectiveness of the team either positively or negatively. Creating a high functioning team that supports and serves everyone in it requires understanding and practicing the fundamentals of what glues a team together.

Clarity – how do I impact and influence the team

Competence – what skills do I have/need personally and professionally

Collaboration – how do we work well with each other and how do I contribute

Community – creating the right environment and conditions where everyone flourishes

As a naïve 16 year old I didn’t really think about what glued our fantastic team together, I just knew that it was a great place to work and that I was cared for and valued. We all got the fundamentals right. The happy outcome was that we ran a super busy and successful restaurant that customers raved about.

In the corporate world where performance is the measurement of success it’s all too easy to prioritise it and make it the glue that bonds a team – the challenge is that it’s a fairly brittle bond. When performance dips the team fractures as the focus shifts from team performance to personal performance. High functioning teams not only serve the team but also the individual – they are built to flex and shape to the ever changing personal and professional environment that they inhabit. Hoping for a high functioning team is a high-risk strategy that, if it just happens, you’re lucky – like I was.

Designing a sophisticated, high-functioning team is something that any business can do and whilst high functioning teams may look simple and effortless they need real investment. Prioritising your people before performance targets doesn’t mean ignoring performance, it means creating a healthy and agile team that is fit for the challenge where performance is a natural, predictable outcome.

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