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How Do You Build High Performing Teams?

Larry McAlister

Staying competitive in today’s market means you need to have a high performing team. Businesses around the world—including NetApp—are only getting more complex. One thing that the teams behind the best technical innovations in the world know is that it takes change and new approaches to grow and stay competitive, whether that’s for market and mind share or for talent.

That is why one of our goals this year is to build high performance teams throughout NetApp.

But what makes a high performing team?

When people think of teams they often confuse teamwork with high performance. They think of sending employees to three-day offsites in Hawaii or asking them to conquer a ropes course together or teaching them to have better, more productive meetings. Those can all be parts of teamwork, but just because a team works well together doesn’t mean they are high performing. Although teamwork is a part of high performance, it isn’t what drives high performance. High performance is driven by accountability and executional excellence.

If you want to have a high performing team, you have to build one. That’s what every great leader understands. It has to be intentional, it has to be purposeful, it has to be designed from the ground up. If you want to build a team that will not only survive, but thrive, you need to drive a mindset within your organization where each and every person understands they have great potential and how that potential is unleashed for their team and for the company.

How do you tap into that kind of potential? By showing employees that they can always get better. By letting them have an impact on the organization. By engaging their skills and talents and letting them run toward their goals. That’s how you unleash great potential.

When you have teams of individuals who have this kind of mindset—a growth mindset—you’ll build teams that can have higher impact, work together cohesively to achieve goals—and know how to be agile and nimble enough to fail faster and always perform better.

In my experience, once you have established a foundation of a growth mindset, there are three mechanisms that sit on top of that foundation that build a high performing team. These three mechanisms are:

Getting clear on your Vital Few: The Vital Few are the few goals you know you need to accomplish—for the year or for each quarter. If you pare things down to the bare minimum and concentrate on doing a few things really well, you don’t have time to get sidetracked by distractions. When you focus on a few vital things that everyone on the team is driving towards, you can move past speed to velocity. You get away from doing “activity, activity, activity” without purpose. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing and why. Having a Vital Few not only focuses teams, but it’s super transparent and can align specifically to corporate goals.

Having Quarterly Conversations: How do you make sure those goals are being met? By talking about it and making sure you’re working with your employees to help them have an impact and to grow in their skills and careers. What is a Quarterly Conversation? As opposed to regular 1:1 meetings when you focus in on day to day tasks or things happening on the team, a Quarterly Conversation is like taking a time out—time to discuss the bigger picture of what people are doing and where they want to go. I’ve found that if you do this—even just once per quarter—employees are more engaged and more effective. And by really talking about what employees want to do, not only do they feel heard but managers learn how to be far more authentic leaders because they take the time to really listen to what employees want to learn and how they want to develop their careers.

Making it measurable: Is it possible to measure whether employees are learning and developing? Sure—by measuring whether they’re engaged. In a highly competitive talent environment, we’re far past the stage of your grandmother’s cumbersome employee surveys. Today surveys use AI and are specifically designed to tell managers and teams exactly what’s working and what’s not. Because today’s surveys are designed around things like alignment, engagement, communication and belonging—not whether you like the food in the cafeteria or the carpet in the hallways—teams can get a really accurate view of what’s going on.

The big “a-ha” is that you empower the team itself to take action. Rather than waiting for corporate or your manager to solve all your problems, you give your teams the data they need to make the changes they need to make. Get everyone on the team—and the manager—around the table to discuss what they can do better.

The authenticity and transparency of having real conversations and backing them up with data is what can help you build a high performing team and get away from noise like performance ratings, rankings and numbers.

Building high performance teams is one of our priorities here at NetApp, and we’re embarking on a journey to do just that. We expect that by focusing on the driving the relationships within organizations that matter—managers and employees, managers and teams—we’ll be able to drive our business to new heights.

Check back throughout the next year as we share our progress toward building a high performing team at NetApp and creating an enhanced employee experience that drives retention and results.

Larry McAlister

Larry McAlister is the Vice President of Global Talent at NetApp. Larry holds a B.A. Journalism from the University of Southern California and has 25+ years of HR experience. His passion has led him to focus on transforming the landscape of talent. He is currently enabling NetApp to build high performing teams through a growth mindset, ongoing conversations and effective measurement. Larry believes in leading with authenticity and creating a place where NetApp talent can continue learning and growing their careers.

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