5 Simple Concepts for Developing High-Reliability Teams

In a previous post, titled "We've Gotta Have Better Teamwork!" I described 17 attributes to help create effective teams. These attributes are listed on pages 21-31of my book Team Leadership in High-Hazard Environments: Performance, Safety and Risk Management Strategies for Operational Teams. In this newsletter I want to focus on 5 attributes, which I think contribute to developing high-reliability teams. By high-reliability, I mean teams that are able to create and maintain consistent performance (based on the key performance objectives of the organization) despite distractions, disruptions, and changes in the operational environment. Here are 5 attributes that I think contribute to creating these types of teams:

  • Pursuit of excellence: Teams should be examining ways that mission or performance failures could occur and devising ways to mitigate the likelihood of failure and/or to minimize the effects of failures. Additionally, teams should also examine the processes that lead to success. This creates a diverse mix of performance stratgegies that not only attempts to reduce the likelihood of failure, but that also attempts to increase the likelihood of success at the same time. 

  • Identification of problems and collaborative problem solving: Rather than being dismissive of weak signals that could be indicators of impending problems, teams should track those signals and determine the whys and hows behind the problems and work together in a collaborative fashion to solve the problems. 

  • Continuous analysis: Once planning stops and operational procedures begin teams should be adept at examining the way the job unfolds and determine what is different compared to the plans. This way the plan may be updated as necessary to maintain performance. Additionally, new ideas about achieving success may emerge so teams should be adept at recognizing opportunities. 

  • Distributed leadership and decision-making: By decentralizing and distributing leadership organizations may find that they can streamline actions and decisions, and gain an advantage through local team action, rather than through centralized micromanagement, which can bog down actions down in many cases.

  • Resilience, Adaptability, and Adaptive Capacity: This is actually the title of an entire chapter in my book. In dynamic work environments operational teams should be able to sense and respond to changes in the operational environment in order to be agile and maintain consistent performance. When changes to inputs happen (such as shifting customer demands and new opportunities) teams should be able to sense these changes and respond in an appropriate timeframe to capitalize on opportunities so they can produce consistent outputs. Teams should also understand how far they can adapt before they reach the brink of failure, and should develop boundaries to help them understand how far they can adapt. Lastly, resilience strategies should be employed to help teams continue operations (even in a reduced mode) when major disruptions occur, while they work to rebuild previous capabilities or new levels of capacities.

Many of these types of concepts are described in my book, and while the book title includes "high-hazard environments" in the title and there are a lot of strategies designed to help high-risk industries, there are also numerous strategies designed to help high-performance teams and organizations, where the issues they face may not necessarily be hazards to personnel, but could be hazards and risks that could impact operational performance. While there are many more team attributes that could help organizations develop reliable teams, these 5 factors may be a good starting point.