How to Improve Team Performance—From Proving to Improving
If you lead a team and hold people accountable for their performance, there is a good chance some of those team members are trying to prove themselves to you and others on the team. You may even be trying to prove your value to your boss and your peer group of leaders. The problem with this is that when people are focused on proving themselves, they are not focused on improving themselves.
What You’ve Done, or What You are Doing?
The way you can tell if someone has a proving versus improving mindset, is to listen to them as they talk about their work. This also works if you are the parent of teenagers. When people talk about what they are doing, do they talk about the good and the bad? What worked and what didn’t work? Or, do you get a highlight reel of all the great things they have done?
You can also take notice of how someone receives feedback about their performance. If you give a team member or your teenager feedback about their performance and they push back or defend themselves, they are most likely operating from a fixed or proving mindset. On the other hand, if they listen and receive your feedback, they are most likely working from a growth or improving mindset. (For more on Mindset, I highly recommend Dr. Carol Dweck’s book titled, Mindset – The New Psychology of Success.)
There is a natural tendency to prove that we have what it takes to compete and to win. I have seen this tendency in myself, my children, and the sales team that I have led. Therefore, noting your mindset and the mindset of those you lead is essential to your ability as a leader to improve your team’s performance. If you can move people to a place of a growth or improving mindset, you can move your organization’s performance.
Four Questions to Move from Performance to Growth
While discussing piano recital performance with my teenage children, I discovered a simple yet profound way to move away from the proving, fixed mindset and toward an improving, growth mindset. Once I saw how well this worked, I began using it with my team at work and any others in my circle of influence. I call it my “Four Questions for Growth,” and it helped me grow as a leader.
After any event—a piano recital, sales call, etc.—these are the coaching questions I like to ask:
1. What was the best thing that happened? This is usually not too difficult for them to answer because it speaks directly to their desire to “prove” they did a good job.
2. What was the worst thing that happened? (What didn’t work so well, or go the way you wanted it to?) Silence. Hmmm, think hard. This is tough because it goes against their desire to impress you (boss/parent). Very few performances are flawless, so make sure they share something here.
3. What did you learn about yourself or the event that you may not have known before? I am trying to get them to become aware of what was happening apart from the actual performance.
4. What will you do differently the next time you are in this situation based on what you have learned? All of growth is about making small, steady improvements in the areas of our learning. Not making the changes will lock us into repeating the same mistakes and mediocre performances that got us here.
Once I began this with my team, barriers we commonly confront when speaking about performance began to come down. It became okay to talk about wins, losses, challenges, failures, and setbacks. People began to ask for help proactively. There was no need to prove anything; everything became about improving. With this simple set of questions asked in a coaching way, we developed a culture of improvement and growth that takes us to the next level in our business and home.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.