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Managing Team Performance

The movement to a teamwork model raises a number of important issues for the performance manager. This chapter will help you to understand the issues involved, so that you can participate in making informed decisions about team performance management.


In the spirit of the Sustaining Excellence in the 21st Century vision, the trend is increasingly toward working in teams. This trend is also in keeping with the shift away from hierarchical organisations, which has been happening in all sectors of the economy over the last twenty years.

Adopting a team approach to working together raises issues for performance managers in each phase of the performance management process. The company has not developed specific policies to deal with team-related performance management issues, although departments are working to resolve them in ways, which meet their particular needs while remaining consistent with company policies and procedures. In this section, we will review the considerations, which arise in the performance management of teams. An important consideration throughout is how to support a collective commitment to a shared mission, goals and objectives while at the same time reinforcing individual responsibility.

Who is responsible for performance management?

Performance management in natural work groups usually operates according to the traditional performance management model in which the focus is on the work performance of an individual and his or her contributions to the mission of the organisation, as observed and assessed by the performance manager. While the performance manager may solicit the input and involvement of the employee in each step in the process, authority and ultimate responsibility remains with the performance manager.

Performance management of a self-directed work team is usually done by the team itself to some degree. That degree varies from organisation to organisation, or even from department to department, and also depends upon the readiness of the team members to assume those responsibilities. A fully empowered mature self-directed work team will describe its own jobs, set its own standards, give feedback to members about work performance and team skills, evaluate its own performance, and identify and support the training and development needs of its members. The organisation will provide guidelines and a framework for that performance management, but within that framework, the team is responsible and accountable for its own performance.

A cross-functional team typically operates without formal supervision, though it may have a team leader. Members usually report to performance managers in their home departments. These performance managers are often not present when team members are participating in the work of the team and may only know about the results of the team's work and the team member's performance through the reports of others, evidence of the team's products, or via customer reports.

Whose performance should be managed?

When a team approach to work is in place, the focus of performance management is on the accomplishments of the team as well as the individual's contributions to those accomplishments. When the performance management process recognises individual performance instead of team performance, the incentives work in favour of individual accomplishment alone, which can result in competitiveness at the expense of team interests. Experience has shown that team effectiveness is improved when both team and individual performance are recognised as significant and factored into the performance management process.

Should job descriptions include team responsibilities, skills and knowledge?

The answer to this question may depend upon 1) how long the team member will serve on the team, 2) the percentage of his or her time spent in team meetings or addressing the team's interests, 3) whether or not the employee's performance in teams will be formally evaluated, and 4) the policy of the member's home department if he or she serves on a team outside of the department.

Employees who work on self-directed work teams may well spend most of their working day doing the work of the team. The team may be responsible for developing its own job descriptions, within company guidelines.

Some of the dimensions of teamwork which might be considered in describing tasks, skills or knowledge are active listening, providing feedback, participation in meetings, problem-solving and decision-making.

How should team performance standards be developed?

Whether or not a performance manager will participate in the process or review the standards is an issue to be decided by the organisation within which the team operates, but a Human Resources representative should be consulted when making such decisions. In general, the same principles apply to the development of team performance standards, which apply to the development of standards for the positions of individuals. The standards should be realistic, clear, specific, consistent, measurable and/or verifiable, and appropriate to the level of the position. Standards should be developed collaboratively involving all of those to whom the standards will apply, or a representative group if the number of positions affected is large.

In addition to setting standards, which address issues such as cost, timeliness, quantity, quality, independent initiative, and customer satisfaction; team standards will also typically refer to skills which make employees effective team members.


Who provides observation and feedback to team members?

The ability to provide effective observation and feedback is critical to the success of every team. It is through observation that areas in need of improvement are identified and through feedback that the team becomes aware of those needs. Whether the team is self-directed and managing its own performance, or team members report to one or more performance managers, teams need to benefit from observation and feedback in order to manage their group interactions and their work processes effectively on a daily basis.

If the team has a formal reporting relationship with someone who is authorised to manage the performance of the team and its members, that person will be concerned with observing and giving feedback about the work-related behaviour and outputs of the team as a whole, as well as of individual team members.

If the team members report to different performance managers, or if the performance manager is not present when the team does its work, the performance manager will need to establish procedures and relationships for learning about the work the team is doing and how it is working together. These procedures should be developed in consultation with department heads and Human Resources representatives. The process could involve receiving input from the team leader, team members, and customers of the team. If the team benefits from the services of an outside facilitator, it is probably not advisable for the facilitator to provide feedback to the performance manager so that the facilitator's impartial role will not be compromised.

Regardless of whether team members report to performance managers, the ability of team members to observe behaviour and give feedback to one another will be a factor in the success of the team in working together. This is especially true in the case of self-directed work teams in which responsibility for performance management rests primarily with the team itself.

Norms, standards and statistical data provide neutral frames of reference which make giving feedback constructive and safe. Another important source of feedback for teams is the team's customers. This feedback may come in a variety of forms: casual conversation, surveys, feedback cards, suggestion boxes, in-person interviews, telephone interviews, and focus groups. Utilising a combination of statistical data, customer feedback and team observation and analysis makes interpretation of problem indicators more accurate and occasions for praise and celebration more evident.

It may not always be appropriate to give feedback in the middle of a group session. Similar issues of timing, place, and appropriateness apply in teams that apply when giving feedback between an individual performance manager and an employee.

Whose performance should be evaluated?

When the sole basis for evaluation is the performance of individual team members, the incentive to work effectively with other team members may be missing. Some organisations have evaluated team performance alone and not individual performance. However, the focus on team performance, without factoring in individual accountability, can have the effect of undermining a sense of individual responsibility. Since team effectiveness does depend, to some extent, on the efforts of its individual members, some organisations have found that it is worthwhile to evaluate both dimensions: team performance and individual performance.

There may be some question about whether performance on a team should be evaluated formally at all. The answer may depend upon how long the team member will serve on the team and the percentage of his or her work week spent doing the work of teams.

Who should evaluate team performance?

Ordinarily, the answer to this question would be the same as the answer to the question about who should manage team performance. However, in the case of teams, it is not uncommon for input into the evaluation to come from other team members, customers of teams, team leaders or sponsors, as well as a performance manager if there is one. Some organisations which evaluate individual team member's performance permit team members to choose peers who will contribute to the evaluation process in addition to input from management and customers.

Self-directed work teams are by definition responsible for managing their own performance, which includes self-evaluation. However, the extent to which they are responsible for evaluating their own performance varies. Responsibility for evaluating their work may reside with a performance manager in the early stages of team formation until the team develops the skills, knowledge and experience to evaluate its own work performance. The responsibility for evaluating team performance may be delegated to the team by degrees as it matures. It is not unusual for the process to include management review as well.

Some cross-functional teams are also self-directed, but the level of self-direction may or may not include responsibility for evaluating team performance.

What to evaluate?

When work on teams is evaluated, typically the effectiveness of work processes and their results are appraised as well as the ability of the team to work effectively together. These dimensions may be described as the work of teams and teamwork, and they may be evaluated on an individual basis, on a team basis or both. Some departments have identified specific dimensions for evaluating teamwork. There is an example of a performance evaluation form below. The information relating to the performance dimensions being evaluated is found in the TASK/ FUNCTION/ RESPONSIBILITY column. The example also includes a point system used to calculate a numerical rating for performance of each function or responsibility.

Who is responsible for the development of team members' skills, knowledge and experience?

Team members need to learn team skills as well as to continuously improve their technical and other work-related skills. Management, performance managers and team members typically work together to identify and provide for the education, training and development needs of team members. Departments in which self-directed work teams function will want to be aware of and anticipate the needs of team members and to provide a framework for considering requests for development.

When members of cross-functional teams require education, training or professional development opportunities in order to support their performance, the appropriate source of funding becomes an issue. Should the employee's home department pay or should the team sponsor or some other source provide the necessary financial support? Authorisation of release time will continue to be a matter at the discretion of the department head in consultation with performance managers or other responsible parties.

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