The excellent book Committed Teams puts forth a ‘3×3 Framework’ for creating and maintaining a committed high performance team.
‘The Framework’ consists of three foundations:

  1. Goals
  2. Roles
  3. Norms

And three steps:

  1. Commit
  2. Check
  3. Close

However, critically, the authors of the book, Moussa, Boyer and Newberry, point to the ‘saying-doing gap’ as the most common explanation for poor teamwork. To demonstrate how this happens in the real world, the authors use the tale of Microsoft in the 2000s.
Conflicting team commitments in Microsoft
The complete lack of innovation from Microsoft in the 2000s prompted one journalist to call it the ‘lost decade’ because as the decade progressed, Microsoft continued to fall further and further behind Apple and newly-emerging Google.
So where does the ‘saying-doing gap’ fit in? Imagine you survey your staff every 6 months, and each time they all tell you that not only is the performance management review system known as ‘stack-ranking’, or ‘the bell curve’,  ruining teamwork, but that it is directly responsible for the strangulation of innovation. In fact, ‘stack-ranking’ was cited by Microsoft employees as “the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of people”.
You then refuse to listen to your employees and continue to drag your senior team together and scream for more innovation.
Imagine forcing each manager to rank their team members from top performers, to good, average, below average and poor. What happens if all team members were top performers? It didn’t matter – they all had to be ranked and someone would be the highest and someone would be the lowest. Those at the top got huge bonuses and promotions. Those at the lowest scale… well they were lucky to hang onto their jobs.
What happened to teamwork? “People do everything possible to stay out of the bottom bucket…People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings”.
Not only were teams sabotaging each other, but company goals organically became six month goals. Why? Because the frequency of the reviews, (every six months) forced people to work on short, six-month personal performance objectives only. One employee said, “The six-month reviews forced a lot of bad decision-making. People planned their days and their years around the review, rather than around products. You really had to focus on the six-month performance, rather than on doing what was right for the company.”
According to Committed Teams, “A team does not exist in a vacuum. It is made up of members who are part of other groups with their own rules that can conflict with the team’s commitments.”
How to close the ‘saying-doing gap’?
The key to closing the gap is to encourage everyone to think as outsiders. Moussa, Boyer and Newberry state, “High Performance Teams work hard to become their own observers, because cultural drift is inevitable. You can plan, and create goals and norms, but circumstances will change and personal priorities will evolve in ways that invalidate or clash with some of the commitments initially established on your team.”
To start thinking like an outsider ‘insider’, the trick is to overcome two common conceptual biases – Overvaluing Outcomes and Motivated Blindness.
1. Overvaluing outcomes
One study entitled “Sticking With What (Barely) Worked” looked at Outcome Bias, and shows that NBA coaches are more likely to revise their strategy after a loss than after a win. However, a team should always look back over every project, regardless of whether it was hugely successful, and look at what worked well, what didn’t, and how to improve even more. A CEO should always ask what would have happened if something had gone wrong? How would the team have responded and coped? The answers can be quite telling.
2. Motivated blindness
Sometimes, we can all be unwittingly blind to the truth, and just jump to conclusions or make false assumptions. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all done it. It might be when one colleague raises concerns about one of your favorite employees. Do you immediately dismiss the concerns because you have never witnessed anything negative?
Instead, scholars Soyer and Hogarth recommend creating a habit of purposefully asking yourself this question: “What would convince me that my interpretation is wrong?”. The key here is to actively seek out evidence that goes against your beliefs. Can you find anything that stops you from letting your own preferences and interests cloud your judgment?
Takeaway
In spite of Microsoft having 100,000 employees, the say-doing gap happened in small individual teams. As Microsoft began to lag behind Apple and newcomers Google,  the executive team refused to listen to employee surveys that continuously pointed to stack-ranking as being detrimental to teamwork.
The key to closing the saying-doing gap and developing high performance teams is rooted in developing an outsider’s mindset, not being afraid to point out when cultural drift occurs, acknowledging when there is a risk of ‘groupthink’, and overcoming personal biases.