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High Performance Teams are established to accomplish something within a timeframe. A clear understanding of the team's objectives is a very important element of creating a successful teams. When what needs to be done and how we will know we have done it is known, life is simple. Most organizations do not have effective measures of performance. Indeed, most organizations are unsure about what constitutes organizational performance.

From the sponsoring manager's point of view, the objectives may not be all that clear. The sponsor may "feel" that significant improvement in overall organizational performance (new business or reduced costs, or improve service) is needed. In this more common instance, the team has some serious work to do defining and refining performance measures.

A High Performance team can and should be expected to develop and refine its objectives and measures of performance. Even when management provides simple instructions such as a desire to reduce costs, many questions remain: Cost reductions at the expense of sales? Reduce our own costs, but push costs off on some other organization or a supplier? Or the customer? Larger objectives quickly come into play, and the team is going to also have to be given the strategic objectives of the organization so it can figure out whether what is trying to do will contribute to the organizations strategy. Unfortunately, the organization's strategy may be only in one person's head, or it seems to change with the wind, or is not followed at all by anyone in the organization. When a team discovers that it doesn't understand the organization's strategy, it must stop progress and get briefed by someone who does understand it. In the sad event that there is no clear organizational strategy, the team will have to presume a strategy and run it past the sponsoring manager for confirmation.

Once the strategy is set or understood by the team members, work can proceed on refining performance measures. High Performance Teams are chartered to improve performance in some way. Performance is associated with speed, quality, cost, and effectiveness. Finding good measures on these variables is not always easy. Effectiveness is very elusive and in the service industry. Quality may be difficult to define as well. Cost and speed are less difficult to get a handle on, but they have their pitfalls and problems as well. To top all this off, most of us are blinded by the current set of performance measures we maintain. Most organizations count what can be easily counted, without regard to whether these counts define the organization's performance: Number of telephone calls answered, number of orders processed, number of thing-a-ma-jigs made, or shipped, or serviced, are only the starting point for understanding performance. A fresh start on measurement may be needed. Getting a better handle on performance usually means starting with your customer's point of view about your performance. Finding out what is important to your customers and building a set of measures around these variables is usually much more effective than counting what can be easily counted.

Sometimes discovering who your customers are is a challenge by itself. Governmental organizations usually correctly assume their customers are the tax payers. But even this simple distinction blurs when you look at public school systems that have students, parents, teacher organizations, and state legislative mandates as well. The most straightforward approach is to trace the money flow. Someone is paying someone else money for something. The one who is paying is the customer. One caution is that in large corporations, this rule might not be true. Corporations sometimes pay for services at one place in the organization and receive the services at another. When this occurs the provider can quickly become confused about which place is the customer.

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