What makes up a high-performing team and how to create one.
Updated: Jul 25
To start, what is a high-performing team? High-performing teams are made up of individuals with specialized expertise, solid communication skills and who are purposeful and focused on achieving their collective goals with outstanding results. High-performing teams collaborate and innovate to produce work at the highest levels, and can come together to make every individual shine, highlighting each team member's complementary skills.
An organization’s culture lays the groundwork for a team to become high-performing. Firstly, and key to any successful team is trust. Trust increases communication, encourages team support, and empowers the team to achieve common goals. Secondly, the team shares a purpose and has a shared vision providing direction and motivation. Thirdly, conflict is managed and there are processes in place to help the team deal with conflict and disagreement. Fourthly, leaders are focused on the end goal and create a clear and defined roadmap to get there. Leadership must communicate the roadmap to the team and ensure they provide and seek frequent feedback to and from all team members. Lastly, understanding that it is diverse individuals that make up a team is key. Acknowledging that everyone can have different working styles and learning how best to leverage individuals’ strengths and skills ensures that the team works to the best of their abilities will ensure the team is successful in all their endeavours.
Building a culture for high-performing teams can be difficult enough to achieve in a ‘normal' business environment. How has this changed when we consider our new normal? Luckily, while we may be lacking face-to-face interaction, the tools we use to build high-performing teams can be leveraged remotely.
1. Trust and Respect
Trust is the foundation for any high-performing team. High performance requires a level of collaboration and teamwork that depends on trust and mutual respect. Employees on high-performing teams value each other and trust each person to do their job. The team must respect everyone’s variety of experiences and knowledge while also recognizing that these differences make the team stronger. This respect of diversity of thought helps team members bring their true and whole self to a project, it inspires innovation and promotes positive risk-taking.
2. Shared vision and purpose
High-performing teams are aligned in their focus, purpose, and priorities. They set individual and team goals that are aligned, clearly defined, and support the shared vision of driving achievement and success. KPI’s and milestones should be agreed on by the team and then driven forward through individuals in the team who take on responsibility and accountability for the main actions. In our remote work environment, an effective way to build a shared purpose is through weekly or bi-monthly calls where goals and KPI’s can be set, and daily calls can discuss progress and roadblocks against milestones. By understanding how goals and an individual and team’s role fit into the overall mission of the organization, team members become more engaged and productive.
3. Managing Conflict
In any team dynamic, conflict is normal and an essential part of real progress. When teams avoid all conflict, they are avoiding diversity of thought, growth, and maturity. To ensure there is healthy conflict within the team, a culture that encourages constructive feedback and questioning needs to be developed. A tool that can help encourage diverse and opposing thoughts is the Six Hats Thinking by Edward de Bono which uses hats as a metaphor for different stages of thinking; one of which encourages team members to negatively critique an idea or concept. Creating a culture of healthy conflict and disagreement opens up the floor to a team that can communicate well with each other and will not stifle, but rather encourage, innovation.
4. Provide feedback
Individual feedback is incredibly important and should be provided on a monthly or quarterly basis for an individual to grow and learn. Team feedback is the same, with a study of team motivation showing that team performance greatly improves when the team as a whole is provided feedback together. After projects, team leads should provide positive feedback, improvements, and lessons learned to the project team while also setting goals to improve upon for subsequent projects.
5. Seek feedback
Every team will have their own unique challenges to overcome. Ensure that the team’s feedback is sought, and team members feel comfortable raising issues. A great tool for this feedback is a team effectiveness survey to shed light on issues the team is experiencing. From there, solutions can be built that help to develop the team and overcome future hurdles.
6. Identify individual preferences
Everyone in a team will have different working preferences, so how the team works needs to cater to that - it is not always one size fits all.
Work preferences can include:
· Communication – Team members may prefer or respond better to a message, a detailed email, or a quick phone call
· Productive times - People are more productive at various times and this should be taken into consideration when organizing team calls or meetings
· Office/work from home – Some of the team may find themselves more productive working from home rather than in a team environment or vice versa
Preferences can also change over time or as a response to changing circumstances, so it is vital that there are frequent touchpoints with the team to ensure these are known by all.
When building out, managing, and guiding high-performing teams, it is important to remember that performance is relative, that challenge and stretch are important to keep a team engaged and most importantly that the team is set up for success when provided with the tools and knowledge to flourish.