On a highly engaging and informative platform, senior business executives -including CEOs, thought leaders and senior HR practitioners – share their ideas and best practices on team performance based on years of management experience in building a collaborative culture and driving business results for an in-depth discussion at Amcham’s 23rd Human Capital Conference.
By Kenny Lau
Teams are the driving force behind any organization – from small partnerships to NGOs, from SMEs to MNCs. Human resources are most effective when employees are able to work closely as a team, regardless of the function for which the team is designed. Conversely, when team members don’t work well together, performance and productivity will simply suffer, a case in which no one wins.
“It only takes one individual not to be engaged, not to be interested, or not to be high-performing to destroy or harm a team,” says Clare Allum, Tax Talent Leader for Asia Pacific at EY and AmCham’s 2014 Human Capital Conference Chair. “It really shows how important it is that we get teams right and that we drive our teams to be functional and effective, particularly when we’re talking about leadership teams in an organization.”
“Teams really matter in today’s world,” she stresses, highlighting the results of a recent survey indicating the issues of teamwork so complex and critical that a team is needed to resolve them. “You couldn’t do it with individuals by themselves. Interestingly, we have also identified that companies with greater reliance on complex, diverse cross-border teams are more successful.”
“One thing is clear: almost all teams do reflect real diversity – diversity in terms of gender, culture, and with multiple generations working together in the workplace,” Allum says. “They also reflect different behavioral styles and different ways of working together regardless of what culture or background you come from.
“Even so, we often don’t take advantage of this diversity, of this richness to really drive high performance,” she also notes. “The focus is, therefore, how we can take our teams and individuals in our teams to the next level.”
Leadership in Teams
The most important person in a financial institution – or any servicebased organization – is the client, for whom there is not one individual but a team of individuals in relationship management, says Maaike Steinebach, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Branch of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. “It’s actually a team, and these teams are often cross-border, cross-product and cross-discipline. It’s very much about operating teams within the matrix.”
We spend a lot of time on collaboration and communication, and we make sure that people know each other and understand what they are supposed to be doing collaboratively,” she says. “We actually look for people with the right mindset and attitude who are very eager and keen to get the job done and to bring a team to the next level.”
Furthermore, “if you have diversity in your team and can get your team to function well, it will lead to high performance in its own right,” Steinebach believes. “What you need is an environment where people know each other, trust each other, and can bring in ideas.
Team performance, however, is also dependent strong leadership, says Michael MacLeod, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. “Who’s conducting is arguably the most important thing in a large symphony orchestra. For our musicians – who literally come from all over the world – what counts is whether they can play.”
“A truly great orchestra is full of star players, and they need a strong conductor to make a musical statement that sort of suppresses the individual ego and creates a true team performance,” he points out. “It is a very interesting balance, and if we didn’t have a team spirit, then the concerts would be no good.
In other words, it is about having the right people with the right skills in the right position at the right time doing the right things, says Joy Xu, SVP & Chief Human Resources Officer (Asia Pacific) at PepsiCo. “Top performance is not necessarily just about outstanding business results but is also about strong leadership in an organization. Only then can you deliver sustainable results.”
“Because we operate across so many different markets, an inclusive environment where people’s voices are heard becomes very critical,” Xu adds. “And we lead by following our values – the guiding principles that allow people to align to our common goals and to succeed together. It is very important for us because no objective can be achieved without seamless teamwork.”
For Evan Auyang, Deputy Managing Director at the Kowloon Motor Bus Company, teams on multiple levels are even more critical as to how it functions as one of Hong Kong’s key public transport systems on which hundreds of thousands of daily commuters rely to get to their destinations promptly.
“We focus a lot on our performance, and we respect diversity in our workforce,” Auyang says. “When you’re operating or trying to reorganize a particular set of bus routes, you’ve got to have the right people because it is pretty technical. At the board level, you want a lot more diversity; if people all think alike, your company will only go in one direction because you don’t question your presumptions.”
Diversity is not only for gender or nationality but also different kinds of education and cultural backgrounds, Cecilia Zhang, Managing Partner of Greater China Advisory at EY, emphasizes. “You need diversity to make your company even more powerful than before and to make your DNA a little bit different from yesterday in a changing world.”
“The question then becomes: how are we going to incorporate new ideas into a legacy? That’s a challenge,” she notes. “It is a delicate balance. Top performance and experience are very important to the success of a business, but if you find something wrong in the organization, you need to take a much closer look. The key is to know what’s right for your company and to make it happen.”
When it comes to measuring team performance, it becomes harder because a team might have achieved great results but there might also be a couple of people who did not pull their weight, says Mitya New, Managing Director of consulting firm Leading Organisations.
“Part of the problem is when you are solely measuring the results but not in terms of the quality of collaboration,” he points out. “There should be a focus on team enablers because if a team is working effectively, it will produce results.”
Team performance is a simple issue for some and a difficult one for others, notes Alla Semiletova, Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Hong Kong Ltd. “What you need is different matrix to measure different aspects of performance. The measurement of performance is one of the key things that a leader needs to focus on because it drives all the other pieces together.
“We also need to think about the objective and how we can drive a change,” suggests Masanori Takeuchi, Managing Director of COACH A (Hong Kong) Co Ltd. “The goal is to define your objectives and results. You have to keep them in mind when you’re designing the measurement.”
“When you are looking at measurement of team performance, you need to have an understanding of the purpose of the team,” says Trey Davis, Director, Executive Compensation, Towers Watson. “It is a very simple question but can yield a very complex answer. You want to look at factors including competencies and behaviors as part of the whole team culture.”
Diversity in Teams
In recruiting for diversity, people naturally focus on someone different to increase the value of a team. But a more important question is whether the team is ready for diversity, notes Margaret Choi, Director & Head of Organizational Effectiveness (Asia Pacific) at Swiss Reinsurance.
The fact that job descriptions are increasingly becoming irrelevant is indicative of the notion that it is not necessarily about the skills but a cultural fit, Choi points out. “Diversity is surely going to another level but it isn’t so easy to grasp. That’s when a leader comes in – does he or she believe in diversity?”
Many hiring decisions are actually a result of an unconscious bias, but “if people are not aware of their biases, they will hire to their likeness and end up with a homogenous team, and it won’t provide you with the same level of creativity with having a diverse team,” Anne-Marie Balfe, Talent Leader for Financial Services (AP) and Asia Pacific Diversity and Inclusiveness Leader at EY, cautions.
“What awareness programs often do is to help people move the bias from the back of their head as an unconscious piece to the front of their head and make it a conscious piece,” she explains.“Sometimes we need people in the room asking a lot of questions to ensure decisions are made in an objective way.”
Once people are onboard, “everyone needs to understand his/her own behavioral style and the style of other teammates to be able to function effectively,” Clare Allum of EY suggests. “We think we know ourselves, but we don’t necessarily see ourselves other team members do. Once people know your behavioral style, they will become more comfortable working with you as a team.”
And it will not happen “unless you have a conversation trying to know the individuals of a team and to understand their individual and collective goals,” says Elizabeth George, Professor of Management at HKUST. “It is a constant understanding of who you are and how you are different because people change in their thinking over time.
On the debate of the global vs local issue of talent acquisition, companies need to understand what is required at the local level, Matthew Long, Head of Structured Origination, Global Markets for Asia Pacific, Europe & America at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. “Can a firm become too local? What is the end point of the global vs local extension?
One of the challenges in team engagement is how to convince business leaders at various levels in an organization to take ownership and get people to believe in the concept. Solutions? Some of it is around releasing information about results and scores quite openly and creating a dialogue, suggests Amy Benger, Asia- Pacific Organizational Development Leader at EY.
The other is to identify the gap, particularly in a dysfunctional team, says Ikhlas Bidau, an executive coach and facilitator with Progress-U Ltd. “Is it because of certain conditions relating to skills, systems or tools? Are people willing to contribute to the team? We really have to try to understand what’s driving the collective behavior of a team before we can turn things around.”
Another is the level of trust, Sang- Chul Lee, Head of Asia for EF Education First, points out. “With people of different cultural backgrounds, it can be difficult to sell your ideas, but if people are able to share their stories, it does create a higher level of trust.
The dynamics of a team is also a key performance indicator, notes Lelia Konyn, Director of Alpha Ocean Assets Ltd. “In terms of compensation and rewards, you can think about having some element or a percentage of reward based on individual contribution and another percentage based on team contribution. You can also recognize more frequently little successes of your team in moments of joy.”
Technology in the Workplace
Technology has enabled the collaboration across the globe even as teams are spread out across the world, and it is driving a cultural change in the future ways of how people work. “It’s about improving productivity, fostering collaboration, and driving innovation across our global workforce,” says MaryAnn Vale, Head of Talent & Organization Development, International, Telstra.
It is a cultural progression in three key areas: people – a behavioral change in how work is done; workspace – a physical environment more conducive to collaboration on a local context; and technology – an unprecedented way enabling teams to work across functions and across geographies.
“The first thing is that there are no offices and a breakdown of hierarchy in the workplace,” Vale notes. “Everything is designed to allow people to self-determine how they work and teams to collaborate in a flexible way.”
“Our research tells us that people want mobility, and they want easy access to data,” says Sundi Balu, Chief Information Officer, International, Telstra. “What we’re delivering right now globally is the capability for any individual in any office in any country to be able to collaborate across time zones, look at the same document, visually see the other person, and do it in a manner that is seamless.”
“From an employer’s perspective, there is a reduction in expenses, and gains in productivity,” he highlights. “From an employee’s perspective, there is flexibility. The tools are becoming available for a user experience where employees are no longer constrained to a physical environment.”