How to Develop a High Performing Team with Julie Kerby

I hold Julie Kerby in the highest regard - she's one of the most indispensable cross functional business partners I've had the opportunity to work with. She supported my team's development needs as we were about to embark on a high intensity, highly visible two-year project. Her thoughtfulness and kind, yet direct, feedback for me and my team resulted in one of the most high performing teams I've worked with in my career.


In this week's In My Network article, she shares her experience and thoughts on how leaders can build the high performing teams they dream of. Enjoy!


How and when did we first meet?

We met in 2004. I was your direct report, working as a Training Manager on the Starbucks Store Development Training Team.  Our team was onboarding 20-30 people a month to help fuel massive store growth across North America.

You have a ton of experience in org development, training and HR.  What is it about team development that you love so much?

Team development uncovers so much untapped potential for improved outcomes—for individuals, teams and organizations!  I love that place that bridges between individual and the organization.

What's the difference between team building and team development?

Classic “team building” events usually involve social or light activities with loose goals, if any. They’re like cotton candy. Big boost of sugar, but on their own, not likely to create long-term value. Good team development focused on strategies, tactics and activities with bigger and longer-term impact.  When I work with teams, we look at things like team alignment to organization mission/values/strategies, team purpose, the goals and work, working relationships and team member dynamics, and how stuff gets done. 

There are often so many complexities at play with a team.  How do you know what the most important thing to focus on is when you start working with one?

Team development is iterative and initial focus varies. Factors to consider are organizational strategic alignment, team maturity, cohesiveness, performance, and the case for change. Some good questions to ask to identify focus areas: What’s our “why”? Who are we and how do we build and maintain trust to be our best? What are our goals and work? What are roles, responsibilities, resources and decision-making approaches? How will we implement our work? Why continue? Consider, which of these questions are most unresolved? Work on quick wins while also beginning to do work on root issues of unresolved questions (hint: the earlier questions in the sequence are more foundational and lead to higher performance when resolved).

What is one thing leaders can do to improve team effectiveness?

Engage the team to identify points of connection where effective teamwork and collaboration lead to greater impact. Recognize and reward team collaboration, in addition to individual performance. Hint: it’s not a peanut-butter approach! Not all work requires collaboration.

What's one thing that a leader has control of that can erode team performance?

Favoritism, especially with team members who are the “superstar”, “mini-me” or “suck up”. While it may feel easier to delegate work or collaborate with those who think like you, this can lead to poor results in your team performance, talent development, problem solving and innovation. Leaders, help yourself and your team to get to know and appreciate the diversity of individual team members, their talents, experience, interests, and motivations. Give people stretch assignments. Encourage team members to support each other in their performance and development.

Thanks Julie! It's time for your rapid fire round!

  • A non-work team you follow/are inspired by: Swedish/Kaiser Medical Team who performed surgery on my hubby. Well coordinated! No doubt there are many healthcare providers doing amazing teamwork right now to make a difference in support people in our COVID-19 times. Inspiring and heroic!

  • First job: Server at Pietro’s Pizza

  • Favorite hike in the PNW: Heather & Maple Passes Loop, North Cascades

  • When you are not working, you are: Taking photographs of cool mushrooms along the trails of the PNW!

  • Place in the world you want to visit before you die:  Great Barrier Reef

Julie is a Sr. Leadership Development Business Partner for Amazon’s Customer Trust and Partner Support organization. She considers herself privileged to get to develop leaders to fulfill Amazon’s mission to be the "earth’s most customer centric company."

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