Pyramid of Progress

The Pyramid of Progress

If you are new to leading a team or organisation, it is often difficult to identify exactly what you should be focussing on, what to look out for or what to identify as key points for development. How do you know, for example, what it is that has led to low pupil numbers or a demoralised team? Equally, how do you know what has made your team perform in an outstanding manner in one of these areas? These are all questions that leaders will face on a daily basis, and they are important ones to ponder because they will quickly give you clues as to what needs to be done by you as the l.

To understand team health, in this module we will look at something that I call the Pyramid of Progress. Each layer of the pyramid represents a broad, yet important, focal area of building and leading a team. The purpose of the pyramid analogy is not to provide a comprehensive layered approach, but rather a simplified conceptualisation of how to build your team into the best that it can be by making sure that the right building blocks are in place at the right time. Importantly, as well, it is a good way of recognising what elements of leading a team are more important than others.

The pyramid is in three layers: 
The first and most important layer is the foundation. As you can imagine, a pyramid with strong foundations will last forever. The foundation of any team is the people. If the people in a team are looked after in the right way, the stage is set for success. Without this attention to the wellbeing of the team, it will be difficult to build systems and processes that will lead to high performance.

Great examples of organisations that do make overt efforts to value their employees are companies like Google, or Apple, who are well known to have amazing working conditions for their employees. By taking care of their employee’s fundamental needs and by paying attention to their wellbeing, they are attending to the base layer of this pyramid. They build a strong foundation with their teams and in so doing, build trust and confidence, which in turn builds their brand and their business. 

Team health is ultimately all about psychological safety. If team members feel psychologically safe they will feel that their contributions are valued. And if this is the case, they will contribute where they can and ultimately the school or organisation will prosper with a strong team that is fully on board with the vision and mission of the school. 

On the flip side, leaders who focus solely on the processes and outcomes of the organisation, paying little attention to the ongoing personal needs of their teams, will undermine the trust and confidence of the team, weakening the base layer of the pyramid, and, well, it’s pretty obvious what will end up happening. The pyramid will crumble from the base and ultimately everything will collapse. 

There are lots and lots of particular items that can be listed in this foundation level of the pyramid and in the following modules I will go into some of them in more detail. But the key message is, look after your team and they will look after you. 

The next layer of the pyramid is all about systems and processes. 

All great companies and organisations require good systems and processes to be in place in order to run effectively. Without these systems, companies lose direction, they appear to be in disarray, and employees lose faith and trust in their organisations very quickly. 

An example of this is the need for a clear and effective communication policy. A lack of a systematic approach to communication results in numerous miscommunications, a ‘Chinese whisper’ effect on messaging and ultimately employee disgruntlement. However, with clear communication policies and guidelines in place many of these unfortunate byproducts are removed, making working conditions way more pleasant for all employees. 

This is just one example, but the key message is that in order to reach high performing status as a team, you will not only need to take care of your people, but you will also need to ensure that your team has a set of systems and processes in place that serve the team’s requirements, suit the working conditions and are not excessive.  

Importantly, the arrows on the diagram indicate that the systems are there to serve the team, and therefore, are best created and maintained by the team who have to utilise them. This is important because systems that are seen as surplus, or irrelevant, or indeed seen to add additional stress will only undermine the work of the team, not enhance it.

It is unlikely that systems and processes will ever be ‘perfect’ but the closer any team or organisation can get to achieving ‘perfect’ systems and processes, the better. And the only way to achieve this is to make sure the systems and processes are continually evaluated by the team, and then developed in line with evolving needs. 

The third and top layer of the pyramid is where the magic happens. We call this the performance layer. This is where employees or team members have had their personal and professional needs met on a basic level so are therefore in a position to really enhance and develop their roles in line with the team’s vision and mission. 

This layer is typified by dedicated employees who are able to advance their roles, bringing about a maturity in the workings of the team as a whole. Everybody wins in this zone, the organisation keeps thriving, and employees feel as though they are able to stretch their professional wings and grow in line with their personal and professional ideals and dreams. 

This top layer can be broken down further to understand how a team can ensure focus on the vision and mission, but this is a separate analysis. The key message of this module is that without the bottom two layers of the pyramid firmly in place, and carefully nurtured by the leader, it becomes very difficult to focus on the vision and mission, and therefore, very difficult to be a high performing team. 

So the key takeaways from this module are:
As the leader, realise that your role is to look after the ‘health’ of your team.
Secondly, establish a high level of psychological safety, trust and confidence within your team. Remember, PEOPLE before PAPER. 
And thirdly, build your systems to suit your team, not the other way around.

If you focus on these three points in all of your leadership decisions, the vision and mission will be kept at the forefront of everybody’s sights, not just yours.  

Point of Reflection:

Think about the team that you are currently leading / a member of. Consider the focus of leadership in your team. Is the leadership focused more on people or processes of the team? Consider whether, in your opinion, they have their focus in the right direction or not.

Personal Development Activity:

Process Audit (60 mins)

  1. Make a list of the processes that your team has in place.
  2. In your leadership journal draw 3 columns on a page entitled ‘Often in use’, ‘Sometimes in use’ and ‘Never in use’
  3. Place each of the processes under one of the headings.
  4. Next, focus on the processes in the ‘Never used’ column and strategize how you can either remove the process altogether, or incorporate it into one of the other processes so that you improve the efficiency of your team.