A high-performing team isn’t high-performing because of its achievements. (Stay with us here…) It’s high-performing because of how team members work together, how they overcome challenges, AND THEN what they’re able to accomplish.
Still not following? OK, so you like pie, right? We all (mostly) like pie. A good pie is a good pie, but it’s a good pie because of the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the baker, not solely because of its taste.
The sum is pretty great but the parts have to be great too.
So how do you make all those parts work together?
What is a high-performing team?
There are five key characteristics that define a high-performing team:
- Psychological safety: Everyone feels safe in taking risks around their team members, and that they won’t be embarrassed or punished for doing so.
- Dependability: Everyone completes quality work on time.
- Structure and clarity: Everyone knows what their specific expectations are. These expectations must be challenging yet attainable.
- Meaning: Everyone has a sense of purpose in their work (i.e., financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, etc.).
- Impact: Everyone sees that the result of their work actually contributes to the organization’s overall goals
Helping your team cultivate these qualities is important, and clear communication is at the core of it all. Without communication, all of these pieces fall apart, down to the last email typo.
The core of team communication in this hybrid world comes down to our conversations, emails, slacks, presentations, voice memos, you name it. And we’re getting them constantly.
A high-performing team knows how to make its messages clear, actionable, and memorable for its audience to help everyone drive toward succes. To put it simply, they’re good at business writing.
But first, a high-performing team needs to know its audience.
1. Know your audience.
A message means nothing if it’s not tailored to the person reading it. We often focus on our need to tell versus someone else’s need to know.
There are 5 key questions to ask yourself:
- Who is your audience/recipient?
- What do they care about in their role (function, responsibilities, stakeholders they answer to, etc.)?
- What is the objective?
- What do you want them to go do after hearing your message? (call-to-action)
- What are the key points to support your objective and call-to-action?
The prep might look like this.
A lead engineer needs to give a Q1 update to her team and the Finance team. She might answer the questions as follows:
Who is your audience/recipient?
- Engineering team: VP of engineering, Directors, Fellow Senior Engineers, and a few entry-level folks
- Finance team: VP of finance, Directors, accounts payable teams
What do they care about in their role? (Pro tip – you’ll want to focus on the highest level in the room)
- VP of Engineering: Cares about innovative products that make the company competitive, Striking the balance between quality and cost efficiency, and ultimately, revenue.
- VP of Finance: Cares about the ROI of projects and expenses, saving money, and generating revenue.
What’s your objective? What do you want them to go do?
- Increase available headcount either by reallocating existing team members or hiring new ones. (This could also be an ask for more financial support, for help aligning to a key message, even for help brainstorming key roadblocks).
What are your three key takeaways?
- Behind timeline
- Plan to get ahead
- Critical to competitive edge
Once you’ve thought about your audience, use what they care about to guide your main points.
2. Create an executive summary outline.
After you’ve clarified your objective and what your audience cares about. You can then dive into the content, starting with an outline.
Here at SNP, we love threes. Studies have shown that people generally won’t remember more than 3 things (Forbes). But, we tend to share too much information when communicating and do it in a roundabout, non-linear way, making it hard to follow.
So, the outline we like to use for presentations, emails, even wedding speeches is called the triangle. It keeps you anchored to three main points.
The middle holds all of your audience information which guides your content. The outside is where you fill in all your content. A key takeaway is 2-3 words. It’s short, pithy, and what you hope your audience walks away with. The supporting points can be as long or as short as you need, the purpose is to put the details in the middle.
After compiling your content, you can then tailor it to the format you’re sharing it in.
3. Edit your content to your medium.
If you were presenting an executive summary you might take your key takeaways, turn them into a paragraph like this…
In Q1, XYZ Project is behind timeline. We have a plan to get ahead. It’s important to invest in this project because it’ll provide a critical competitive edge.
We need your support in increasing the available headcount either by reallocating existing team members or hiring new ones. A number of roadblocks have put us behind timeline and a lack of team availability prevents us from testing the solutions to these problems. Our plan to get ahead depends on freeing up current team members, Peter and Jen, or bringing on two new contractors which would allow us to resolve these roadblocks in three weeks’ time. This would be a valuable investment because XYZ project provides a critical competitive edge to the company by enhancing our existing product, resolving current customer issues, and bringing in $500,000 quarterly in year one once launched.
Again, XYZ Project is behind timeline but we have a plan to get ahead. To move forward and gain a critical competitive edge, we’d like your buy-in on reallocating team members’ time to focus on this project or providing financial support in expanding the team.
If you were turning it into a presentation you might add more to your supporting points and break each point into a slide with the necessary evidence.
But most of us, we’re communicating important messages in email.
Here are ten things to keep in mind when writing an email:
11 email best practices for business writing
- Put the most important information first
- Use short sentences. Can it be <7 words?
- Use short paragraphs (1 idea per paragraph)
- Use the active voice (“We reached the goal” instead of “the goal was reached”)
- Use action verbs and concrete nouns
- Avoid jargon and clichés
- Keep the tense consistent – have a reason for changing tenses
- Show, don’t tell (follow a generalization with an example)
- Use good grammar and proper punctuation
- To check tone and a conversational style, say it out loud
- Make sure you have an actionable and detailed subject line
Here’s what this looks like in practice…
Subject Line: APPROVAL NEEDED THUR, MAY 4th – Headcount Increase for XYZ Project
For XYZ Project, we need your support in increasing the available headcount to solve current roadblocks and get ahead of timeline.
- Roadblocks have put us behind timeline.
- More headcount would resolve this in three weeks.
- This project provides us with a critical competitive advantage.
A number of roadblocks have put us behind timeline. A lack of team availability prevents us from resolving the roadblocks.
By freeing up current team members, Peter and Jen, we can get ahead of timeline. We could also hire two new contractors for the duration of the project. With these added team members, we’ll resolve the roadblocks in 3 weeks.
XYZ project provides a critical competitive edge to the company. It enhances our existing product. It resolves current customer issues. It’s projected to bring in $500,000 quarterly in just year one once launched.
Again, we need your support in increasing the available headcount to solve current roadblocks and get ahead of timeline as this project is critical for a competitive edge.
These skills seem basic, but when we encounter high-stress situations or quick turnaround times it’s easy to go with what’s simplest rather than what’s most effective.
High-Performing Teams Put in the Effort
High-Performing teams do the work. Period. Yes, they achieve great results, but it’s the effort they expend in between the start and achieving success to create psychological safety, to provide structure and clarity, to be dependable, and to illuminate meaning and impact that makes them high performing.
Communication is the crux of achieving all of these qualities as well as success.
Go back to basics. Understand your audience. Make your content clear with an executive summary outline. And then tailor it to your medium.
Want to bring a Business Writing training to your team? Reach out to us at [email protected]