In my last post, A Common Vision, I mentioned that I recently experienced the joy of watching the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra perform. I took away from that event several powerful illustrations of high performance teams. Apart from having a common vision and subordinating individual talents to those of the team for the purpose of exceptional performance, there are several other things I observed. High performance teams are characterized by having crystal clear roles and responsibilities. The orchestra was a great illustration of this trait.

There were several musicians representing the same instrument, and there were many musicians playing different instruments. All of them knew their part. They knew when to play together and they knew when to separate and play something different, such as when they were harmonizing. In one piece, there was a section that called for a tambourine. The tambourine player stood and played his pieces, executing his part flawlessly, and then sat back down. That’s all he did through the entire piece, but he knew his role and took responsibility for it. No one individual on that stage could have put on the show by themselves.

Appropriate role definition in high performance teams is all about dividing up the task at hand. It requires that the team be designed as a team of specialists. High performance depends upon both individual excellence and how well the individuals work together. When the task is divided into different and specific roles, the individuals become inextricably tied together. The side effect of interdependence is introduced. In order to experience the benefit of interdependence, the individual performance must cooperate. They must know their role and everybody else’s. They must know where their role begins and ends and where everybody else’s role begins and ends. It also requires a high level of trust.

Here are a few questions to ask regarding the roles of your team members to determine if your team can be more effective:

  1. Are our team roles clearly defined?
  2. Are we leveraging our team roles as much as we can?
  3. Do we have the right combinations or roles, behavior, attitude, skills, knowledge, and experience on our team?
  4. Is every team member doing what they are best suited for?
  5. Are team members helping each other fulfill their roles and is there any room for improvement?

Answering these questions will help your team achieve symphonic performance.

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