As most of us know, experiences of working within a team can be wildly different. At some point during our lives, most of us have found ourselves working in a less than desirable team environment, where fear of speaking up, ongoing conflicts and that unpleasant feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’ is part and parcel of a day spent in the office.
Conversely, being part of a successful, high-performing team can be a rewarding and motivating experience for both the team and business. And as Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn cofounder) once said, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team”.
In this article, we explore the definition of high-performing teams and the characteristics you can look out for to identify one. We discuss the most effective ways to build high performance teams and develop them within your organisation and provide information on some of the tools available to support you with this.
What is a high performing team?
As a group, a high-performing team strives for excellence through two-way open communication, mutual trust, common goals, shared leadership, clear job roles and constructive conflict. Each team member accepts accountability for their own workload and actions.
The benefits of high-performing teams include:
- A broad range of talents and skill-sets
- A group of innovative thinkers, each with their own ideas and suggestions to bring to the table
- Little requirement for management input
- Improved morale
- Better productivity
Characteristics of high performing teams
Individuals working within high-performing teams can be described as being:
- Goal-oriented and ambitious
- Committed to their colleagues and the overall team mission
- Highly skilled
- Experts in their field
- Collaborative, encouraging contribution from all team members - including the introverts
- Able to work to a high standard
- Willing to accept constructive criticism
Professor Ina Toegel suggests high performing teams should be formed of no more than 8 people - too many people means “challenges in coordination, increased tension and reduced productivity”. She also advises considering the use of peer recruitment, enabling members of the existing team to play a part in the attraction and selection of their future peers.
How can you build and develop a high performing team?
It’s easy enough to outline what a high performing team looks like, but building high performance teams isn’t always an easy task, but the benefits are definitely worth the effort. When building high performing teams, there are a few key areas to focus on.
1. Make communication a priority
This is one of the key characteristics you’ll need to look for in a high performing team, however, it’s one that’s very often taken for granted. But failure to promote effective communication can be a costly mistake when it comes to team output, meeting targets and engagement.
To create a high performance team, managers should encourage a strong focus on team communication to ensure improvements in motivation, productivity and profitability. Equally, managers must prioritise the dissemination of information to their direct reports. For example, if there is a new working practice or policy to be implemented, share this with the team and ask for their input.
There are many barriers to effective communication, from failure to listen and making assumptions to conflicting messages and emotional distractions. If you can eliminate these communication issues from your team, you will be well on the way to successfully building a high performing and agile team.
Help your team members to understand their own and others preferred communication styles. Doing so will instantly help to drive effective communication as everyone will be able to adapt their style to best suit the needs of their colleagues. This will also enable you to establish the best approach when it comes to team briefings or formal team meetings.
2. Set SMART objectives
One of the best ways to ensure a high performance team is by setting clear objectives at the outset. Doing so will ensure the team knows exactly what they are working towards and how this contributes to the overall success of the business.
Consider setting up a goals meeting with the team as a forum to discuss key priorities. This allows them to have some input in the development of objectives, hopefully meaning they are more committed to achieving them.
3. Tackle conflict
Even with the best high performing team in the world, there will still be conflict from time to time. While in certain cases limited conflict can be beneficial, the best way to approach this is to expect it and be ready for it when it happens. Then, as soon as an issue arises, set about addressing it as a matter of urgency.
For example, if there is a difference of opinion resulting in an argument between two members of the team, set up a meeting straight away to mediate a civilised discussion. By resolving the conflict quickly, you should be able to prevent it from spiralling out of control and causing a deeper rift.
4. Understand where you are currently - and where you want to be
In order to move your team forward, understanding the dynamics of how people are currently working is vital. Consider the following questions:
- Do you know the strengths of the people working within your team?
- Are you aware of any limitations which need to be improved upon?
- What is the role of each person within the team?
- Why are they important?
- How does the team react to change?
- Are there any drivers for potential conflict within the team?
Managers should work collaboratively with their teams to answer these questions - the results will help to identify any training needs or skill gaps which can then be resolved to improve future performance.
Once these questions have been answered, encourage the team to engage with development programs, training or education opportunities. This will help them to further their knowledge and learn new skills, potentially enabling them to take on additional responsibility or move into future leadership roles.
5. Make sense of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EI) is a powerful driver when it comes to teamwork. When mastered correctly, it can help to transform understanding of the team’s ‘DNA’.
EI can be described as “the capacity to harmonise thought and emotion”, i.e. an individual’s ability to understand and control their own emotions whilst recognising and managing those of other people. Being emotionally intelligent requires a person to be perceptive, self-aware and able to regulate their emotional responses in a range of scenarios.
team which can consistently utilise the knowledge given by EI will communicate effectively and naturally foster an attitude of loyalty and engagement. They will also be able to fine-tune their team working skills to push for further success.
6. The foundation of any successful team is trust
Trust is at the heart of any successful team. Without it, teams will be unable to progress due to fear of conflict or lack of commitment.
stablishing trust between team members can help take the team from satisfactory performance levels to outstanding results.
Being open and honest about strengths and limitations in workplace behaviours is one way to help generate trust between team members. Having an understanding of our own personality traits can help us to learn why we behave in a certain way. It can also identify how we interact with people and whether we need to consider making changes to our behaviour.
7. Feedback is a gift
Remember to recognise the work and achievement of the team. Even if you are unable to offer financial incentives, saying ‘thank you’ often goes a long way in showing your staff that they are valued.
If you’ve followed the steps above, you’re already well on the way to build high performance teams. However, you also need to maintain that performance.
Having a written team charter can help to provide clarity on expectations. When drawing this up, remember to ask for contributions from the team. This will help them to feel empowered and able to contribute, ensuring they are on board with it right from the very beginning.
Be transparent about your efforts and get the whole team on side by making a collective commitment to individual and team improvements. Set out the business case for doing so - i.e. that a high performance team will capitalise on their strengths and work together effectively to achieve their shared objectives. The business case won’t remain static, so make sure this is regularly updated and distributed to the team as and when things change.
Remember, when team members work well together, there is little they cannot accomplish. Ensure you are always looking at the bigger picture to increase your chances of developing and sustaining high performance work teams.