High performance teams can perform consistently at a higher level than other teams for a variety of reasons but one of the key ones is that they have embed Team Mental Models (TMMs) This term refers to shared level of understanding in relation to what is required in any given environment and which are the critical elements they need to focus at any given time. Basically they are on the same page. The TMMs are a matter of life and death in the most extreme team performance environment. If we consider the shared understanding needed in an operating theatre, where each team member needs to anticipate the needs of their colleagues whilst adjusting to ever changing environment (the condition of the patient) in a very pressured situation. The TMMs allow them to execute operations that just would not be possible without the level of shared understanding that underpin the TMMs.

In sports team one of the skills that can be executed because of the presence of ingrained TMMs is the No Look Pass. This is where a pass is made to a teammate without the passer looking at the recipient as that would tell the opposition where the ball is heading. Having the ability to play at this level and consistently execute no look passes gives that team a competitive advantage, as they are harder to defend against. To be able to operate consistently at this level of performance takes a lot of dedication but the competitive advantage gained is deemed to be worth the investment.

If we then apply the same concept to a business looking to gain a competitive advantage what would a No Look Pass concept look like? How could TMMs play a part in improving the performance of a team or of a company?

Seamless handovers

One of the areas that businesses find most challenging is the handover between departments. A handover is simply the movement of a customer in the case of a service business or a product being built in a manufacturing business between two departments or two individuals. The lack of a seamless handover process is where most customer dissatisfaction is generated or product defects appear.  The underlying reason for this in my experience, is that as businesses are growing they can spend too much time focussed on the processes and systems within departments and not enough time on connect or focussing on company wide processes and systems which results in sub-optimal handovers between departments. 

It is here that I think a focus on TMMs and a desire to embed a No Look Pass concept could benefit businesses in three specific ways.

Benefit # 1 – Efficiency

The No Loo Pass concept increase efficiency within a company as no one is double- checking whether a subsequent action has been completed. Time can be focussed on the next action – forward focus- rather than past actions – backwards focus. This focussing forward will result in a higher flow of activity, whether that means more sales being generated, more products being completed in the factory or more customers being served. All of which are metrics, which are aligned with efficiency. Because there is a high level of trust in place across the different teams within the company and between individuals within teams very little time is wasted in needless additional communications – “just emailing to check that the order I sent yesterday has now been processed” etc. No Look Pass teams operate with very high levels of trust, which is an efficient way to operate.

Benefit #2 – Efficacy

In order to be able to adopt a No Look Pass way of operating time has to be invested in finding the optimal way of operating. Both within teams and across teams the optimal processes & ways of working have to be established and agreed. Once agreed they need to be embedded through repetition, and feedback loops. All of this optimising will naturally result in the most effective way to complete a series of actions being generated. The practice involved and the curiosity of finding the best process will naturally lead to the establishment of the optimal way of working being discovered. If time is allocated to this specific goal of finding the optimal way and then embedding it, the maximum ROI will be achieved. You will be making the most effective use of your resources, whether the resources involved are financial, human or materials

Benefit #3 – Elevation

This concept when adopted raises the performance bar, as expectation is increased. There is equally high expectation on both the passer and the catcher that means both are likely to raise the performance of the other. The catcher is expected to be ready when the pass is due to be received, come what may and similarly the passer is expected to make the pass at the pre-agreed time, come what may. In a business context this would translate to a sales team expecting the fulfilment team to complete and ship the customer order by the agreed delivery date. Simultaneously the fulfilment team expecting the enough sales to be completed to sell all the products that has been prepared in advance in anticipation of the sales targets being achieved. The No Look Pass concept creates a health tension between teams or individuals with expectations heightened and awareness increased. These two factors being present will generally result in an elevated performance

The critical ingredients

A sports coach will focus on making sure the individual players have the skills, fitness level and confidence to perform repeatedly at this level. If anyone of those components isn’t present across all the players involved they know that won’t be able to adopt this way of playing into their on field performances.

For a business leader the equivalent components required to be in place are understanding of the process, trust in colleagues and ingrained technical skills which means that this way of working can happen repeatedly and consistently as often as required. 

Professionals spend a lot of hours practicing their craft to ensure they can perform at the optimal level when required. Too few businesses hold themselves to the same standards and have the same attitude towards the necessity of practice in my experience. Not enough roll plays are performed, not enough time is spent perfecting processes and not enough investment is made in coaches to facilitate these processes to ensure that a No Look Pass level of performance can be achieved.


Achieving optimal performance

Optimal performance in the arts, in sports and in education is built on consistent practice routines being adopted and adhered to which are overseen by an experienced coach, teacher or mentor.  Obviously leaders can perform this role for the individual and teams that they lead if they have the skills, time and desire to do so, but that is not always the case. It is also difficult to adopt different personas simultaneously. Holding people to account for their performance whilst being the person responsible for improving the team and individuals performance is a difficult juggling act.

In other sectors those two functions are separated. In education Head-teachers or CEO’s of Trusts are accountable for the performance of the school in both financial and results terms but teachers are responsible for coaching the learners to improve their individual performance. Football managers are accountable for the overall results of their team but different specialist coaches are responsible for improving the factors such as diet, skills and mind-set that underpin the level of performance achieved by the team.

Why would businesses not benefit from adopting the same methodology to improve their performances? Specialist coaches and trainers working on improving the individual elements of performance and time spent as a team practicing working alongside each other to embed TMMs. High performance teams know that it is the intensity of the training that enables an optimal ‘match’ performance. So if you teams aren’t performing at the level you require maybe it is worth reviewing the intensity of their training. A No Look Pass level of performance is available to all if you make the required investment in time and expertise.

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