Coal, Nuclear

High Performing Teams Invest in Teaming

Issue 3 and Volume 118.

Rogers   Mary Jo Rogers, Ph.D.

The value of high performing leadership teams is realized across the site in safety, reliability, and cost. One of the most powerful antidotes to challenging plant conditions and people hunkering down in their functional areas is the camaraderie, effective communication, and decision-making quality of the well-oiled team machine. The downsides of ineffective leadership teams are many—inefficiency and burn-out top the list.

When running nuclear power plants is made even more stressful by market economics, regulatory expansion and aging equipment, it’s time for leadership teams to pull together and make the investment in their own team capability. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough the nukes tough it out instead of stepping back and working on the team. Nuclear energy leaders need to be reminded of the importance of creating effective leadership teams that function well under duress.

Are we really a team?

Nuclear power plants are the perfect environments for building highly effective top leadership teams that guide the trajectory of the plant. Site senior leaders are true teams when members have complementary roles, they are committed to a common purpose, such as plant performance, and are held accountable for shared results. The nuclear SLT is made up of a cross-section of the department leaders (e.g., operations, maintenance, engineering, work control, radiation protection, chemistry, licensing, training, human resources and finance). Together they are responsible for the daily functioning of the plant but they also have a significant impact on long-term asset management. INPO has concluded and communicated many times that the effective functioning of the SLT is critical to the site’s performance.

Why invest in developing the team?

Team leaders too often assume that good team behavior and performance will emerge “naturally.” They are partly correct in that strong leadership, team stability and highly capable individual leaders can help achieve team results over time. However, these conditions are not sufficient to drive sustained team performance, nor do most teams have the luxury of time or team stability with a full complement of high achievers. When faced with the current realities of frequent movement in and out of the team combined with pressure to perform quickly, the investment in the development team is well worth it.

Another reason some leaders fail to propel their teams forward, is that they are unclear on what good team development actually looks like. On the one extreme, they think that social events one or two times a year will suffice (given that they spend all day at the plant together). Or they fear that teaming would require one full day or two-day long off-sites at a “ropes” course and they rightly fear wasting that kind of time. In actuality, team development involves regularly bringing the team together to work through how team members are going to work together to solve the team’s problems and challenges and achieve results together. There are many ways of doing this, but focusing on the team in this way can take a few hours every month (with follow-up during the week), but it needn’t be onerous, and should instead be energizing, solution-focused and yield team performance improvement.

Current Realities

I have had the opportunity to work with many nuclear site leadership teams over the years to see how investing the right kind of time on the team itself pays dividends. Recently it appears that the challenges to SLTs include multiple changes in personnel and positions while expectations remain high and site resources limited. To use the age-old terminology, teams keep forming and storming and fail to reach the performing stage. They limp along, have inconsistent results, and burn out good people who leave to work in a better environment.

The teams that do well in this scenario recognize the importance of SLT alignment in leading and guiding the site. They take some time to solidify their shared goals and figure out how to get there together. They also develop excellent working relationships and have each other’s back. Individual leaders should obtain feedback on how they are impacting the team’s effectiveness and what they need to do differently. Having both individual and team behavioral feedback has a powerful impact on the team’s development. Having good relationships speeds communication and boosts commitment.

So if you wonder whether it is worth spending precious time “team-building” when there is so much to do to fix the plant, you should ask instead whether you can afford not to.


Mary Jo Rogers, Ph.D. is a partner at Strategic Talent Solutions with over 15 years working with leaders in the utility sector. She recently published the book, “Nuclear Energy Leadership: Lessons Learned from U.S. Operators,” by PennWell. Contact Mary Jo at or [email protected].

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