How to Build High Performance Teams |

As a business owner or manager, you are likely aware of the importance of building high-performance teams. Working in a less-than-desirable team environment can lead to ongoing conflicts and a lack of motivation, whereas being part of a successful, high-performing team can be a rewarding and motivating experience for everyone involved. 

This article explores the definition of high-performing teams and the characteristics you can look out for to identify one. We also discuss the most effective ways to build high-performance teams and develop them within your organization, and provide information on some of the tools available to support you with this.

What is a high performing team?

A high-performing team is a group of individuals who strive 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 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 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
  • Innovative
  • Able to work to a high standard
  • Willing to accept constructive criticism

Professor Ina Toegel suggests that 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.



Common types of high performance team models

Structurally, high-performance teams are designed to boost performance and focus on the details of delivering results. There are many different versions that organizations use to establish their identity. Here are some examples:

Work teams

Work teams are responsible for fixed areas such as production, and customer service. They are a collection of employees whose specialties all lie in the same sector. Whether it is producing goods or providing services, the work team is a typically stable, usually full-time, and well-defined team. 

Found in both manufacturing and service organizations, they are usually managed or directed by supervisors who make the wider decisions in how it is done and who does it. Self-managing teams involving employees making decisions that were formerly made by supervisors are gaining favor.

Virtual teams

Virtual teams allow companies to curate teams of the best talent possible. Thanks to a global pandemic, we became very attuned to the possibilities, strengths, and weaknesses of a virtual team. This is where a group of individuals work together in the pursuit of common goals across time, space, and organizational boundaries. 

Linked through technology (i.e., Zoom, WebEx, internal networks), members of a virtual team coordinate their work predominantly with electronic communication tech to complete specific tasks and may never actually meet face-to-face. Because of the lack of geographical constrictions, organizations are best positioned to obtain the best talent possible to complete specific projects. They are equally viewed as more efficient in expenditures of time and related travel costs.

Project teams

Project teams are temporary teams that are assembled to complete specific projects or tasks with a definite end. They consist of individuals from different departments who possess specialized knowledge and expertize required to achieve the desired outcome.

One of the key benefits of project teams is that they bring together diverse perspectives and skill sets to tackle complex challenges. They are not involved in repetitive tasks but rather focus on applying their expertize and judgment to produce high-quality results.

Management teams

Management teams provide direction to subordinate teams and oversee business performance. The authority of a management team is derived from the hierarchical rank of its members, with executive management teams sitting at the top of the hierarchy.

These teams establish the strategic direction of the business and manage performance by leveraging their collective expertize. They are responsible for ensuring that the business is running efficiently and effectively.

Parallel teams

Parallel teams are created when an organization needs to perform functions that its formal structure is not equipped to handle. These teams typically draw people from different work units or roles and operate alongside the formal organizational structure.

Parallel teams have limited decision-making authority but can make recommendations that may lead to wider changes within the organization. They are often used to solve problems and drive improvements, with examples including task forces, employee improvement groups, and quality improvement teams.

What are the roles in a high performance team?

High performance teams are essential to the success of any organization. Dr Raymond Meredith Belbin, a management theorist, identified nine different roles that are necessary for a team to function effectively. Understanding these roles can help team members develop their strengths and work collaboratively to manage weaknesses.

Action Roles:

  • Implementer: This individual excels at translating the team's ideas into manageable tasks and priorities.
  • Shaper (Task Leader): The Shaper is a dynamic role focused on organizing goals and overcoming obstacles.
  • Completer/Finisher: This role is characterized by meticulousness, attention to detail, and the ability to meet deadlines.

People Skills Roles:

  • Coordinator: The Coordinator is skilled at facilitating decision-making and encouraging collaboration.
  • Team Worker: This individual is a good listener and excels at being cooperative, collaborative, and tactful.
  • Resource Investigator: The Resource Investigator is an extrovert who is skilled at making connections, gathering information, and exploring new opportunities.

Cerebral/Intellectual Roles:

  • Plant: This individual is skilled at problem-solving and thinking outside the box.
  • Monitor/Evaluator: The Monitor/Evaluator possesses good judgment and strategic thinking ability.
  • Specialists: Specialists provide technical oversight and expertize within their respective fields.

How to build and develop a high-performing team

Building a high-performing team is a vital part of any business success. The characteristics of a high-performing team can vary depending on the company’s objectives, but one thing is certain - a high-performing team can help drive motivation, productivity and profitability. 

These are seven key areas for managers to focus on to build a high-performing team.

1. Prioritize communication

Effective communication is one of the most important characteristics of a high-performing team. By prioritizing communication, managers can ensure improvements in motivation, productivity and profitability. 

To promote effective communication, managers should encourage a strong focus on team communication and prioritize the dissemination of information to their direct reports. It is important to help team members understand their own and others' preferred communication styles and to establish the best approach when it comes to team briefings or formal team meetings.

2. Set SMART objectives

Setting clear objectives at the outset is one of the best ways to ensure a high-performing team. Doing so will ensure the team knows exactly what they are working towards and how this contributes to the overall success of the business. 

Managers should consider setting up a goals meeting with the team as a forum to discuss key priorities. This allows team members to have some input in the development of objectives, hopefully meaning they are more committed to achieving them.

3. Tackle conflict

Even the best high-performing team in the world will still experience 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. By resolving the conflict quickly, managers can prevent it from spiraling out of control and causing a deeper rift.

4. Understand your current and future dynamics

To move a team forward, it is vital to understand the dynamics of how people are currently working. Managers should 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?

By working collaboratively with their teams to answer these questions, managers can identify any training needs or skill gaps which can then be resolved to improve future performance.



5. Master emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a powerful driver when it comes to teamwork. When mastered correctly, it can help transform understanding of the team’s ‘DNA’. EI can be described as “the capacity to harmonize thought and emotion”. 

It requires an individual to understand and control their own emotions while recognizing and managing those of other people. By consistently utilizing the knowledge given by EI, a team can communicate effectively and 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. Establish 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. Establishing 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 behaviors is one way to help generate trust between team members. Having an understanding of our 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 behavior.

7. Feedback is a gift

Remember to recognize 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.

Benefits of building high performance teams for businesses

There are many benefits associated with building high performance teams, their impact can be significant with broader benefits to the organization, the members of the team and the employees across the rest of the company as a whole. 

The immediate reward for developing these teams for the business is that they meet the specific objective or overcome the problem the team was created to work on. Whether that was to create a new client service product that addressed the needs of the organization to develop a plan for a complex office move or even create a new company culture designed to foster greater creativity or better time management practices. 

A successful high performance team can also bring long-lasting performance benefits to the company and its workers, even after the team is disbanded or set to work on something else. A key to this is to create a focused, frictionless collaboration of the kind required to accomplish high-priority objectives that can build trust among team members while aligning the wider workforce with the company’s vision.

The benefits of building and continually developing high performance teams in the workplace include the following:

Improved productivity and efficiency

One of the primary benefits of building high performance teams is improved productivity and efficiency. High performing teams are made up of experts in their respective fields, who work collaboratively to achieve their goals. When team members work together, they can capitalize on their strengths and skills, resulting in improved productivity and efficiency.

Challenging outcomes

High performance teams are designed to achieve challenging outcomes. These teams are strategically focused on the specific objective or problem that needs to be addressed. Whether it is developing a new client service product or creating a new company culture, high performance teams work collaboratively to overcome complex challenges.

Increased trust and engagement with work

When team members work collaboratively towards achieving their goals, it builds trust and engagement with their work. Team members learn to rely on each other and develop a sense of camaraderie, resulting in increased motivation and job satisfaction.

Business vision actualization

High performance teams help to actualize the business vision. When teams work collaboratively to achieve their shared objectives, it aligns the wider workforce with the company’s vision. This leads to improved performance and helps to achieve outcomes for clients or internally that further the business performance.

Successful accomplishment of high-priority objectives

High performance teams are successful in accomplishing high-priority objectives. This is due to the focused, frictionless collaboration of team members, who work together effectively to achieve their shared objectives. As a result, businesses can achieve their goals faster and with greater success.

Maintaining high performance

Once high performance teams are formed, it is crucial to maintain their performance. A written team charter can help to provide clarity on expectations, and it's important to ask for contributions from the team to empower them and ensure they're on board with the goals from the beginning.

Businesses should also be transparent about their efforts and get the whole team on board by making a collective commitment to individual and team improvements. Regularly updating and distributing the business case for high performance teams can also help to ensure that everyone is aligned with the vision and goals.

In summary

If you’ve followed the steps above, you’re already well on the way to building 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 capitalize 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.

To find out more about how Thomas can help you in the development of high performing teams, visit our page on Team Working Skills or speak to one of our specialists today.