7 Characteristics of High Performing Teams: What Sets Them Apart? | Thomas.co

In today's fast-paced business environment, team cohesion and effectiveness are more important than ever. Teams are the engine that drives performance, innovation, and growth. The benefits of maximising their performance are manifold, ranging from improved productivity and decision-making, to increased employee engagement, and a more agile response to ever-changing market demands.

According to research by Aon, high performing teams are 20% more productive and profitable, with 10% higher customer satisfaction. By understanding the essential traits that define these exceptional groups, leaders can foster an environment that supports collaboration, creativity, and results. Stay tuned as we delve into the seven characteristics that set high-performing teams apart and provide you with a roadmap to unleash your team's full potential.

1. Strong leadership 

Strong leadership within a team is pivotal in guiding and energising its members towards a shared objective. By setting explicit expectations and communicating effectively, leaders can inspire and motivate team members to strive for excellence in their respective roles. The significance of robust leadership in team success lies in the ability to provide direction, enforce accountability, and cultivate a positive team culture.

Exceptional leaders, such as Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, and Sir Alex Ferguson, have demonstrated the impact of strong leadership on high-performing teams. Jobs revolutionised the tech industry with his visionary guidance at Apple, while Sandberg's influential role at Facebook was indicative of her aptitude for empowering others. Sir Alex Ferguson's legendary reign at Manchester United exemplifies the transformative power of effective leadership in the world of sports.



2. Clear communication

Clear communication is integral to team success, as it prevents misunderstandings and ensures that all team members work cohesively towards a common goal. Establishing clear communication within a team involves setting expectations, implementing regular communication channels, and actively listening to team members' inputs. By doing so, teams can effectively navigate challenges and align their efforts to achieve success.

Unfortunately, poor communication has been the downfall of numerous teams, leading to catastrophic events such as the Challenger disaster and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In both cases, crucial information was not effectively communicated, resulting in severe consequences and highlighting the vital role that clear communication plays in averting disaster. As these examples demonstrate, fostering a strong communication culture within a team is indispensable for its overall success and the prevention of tragic outcomes.

3. Trust and collaboration

Trust and collaboration are indispensable elements of team success, as they foster creativity, innovation, and a sense of belonging among team members. To build trust within a team, managers should lead by example, practice transparency and honesty, and maintain open communication channels. Establishing a trusting environment allows team members to feel comfortable sharing ideas and working together efficiently.

Encouraging collaboration involves setting common goals, organising team-building activities, and celebrating successes together. These strategies help create a strong bond among team members, promoting a unified approach to problem-solving and goal attainment. By cultivating trust and collaboration within a team, leaders can unlock the full potential of each individual, paving the way for increased productivity, innovation and ultimately, greater success in achieving the team's objectives.

4. Diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are vital components of high-performing teams, as they bring a wealth of perspectives and ideas, fuel innovation, and nurture a positive team culture.

Famously, McKinsey research linked diversity with commercial success. To create a diverse and inclusive team environment, leaders should establish an inclusive hiring process, provide diversity and inclusion training, and encourage open communication. For example, take the US women's soccer team and the 2008 Obama presidential campaign team. Both teams harnessed the power of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to foster a collaborative and innovative atmosphere, that ultimately drove their respective successes. Similarly, embracing diversity and inclusion, teams can unlock their full potential and enhance their overall performance.

“The gains from diversity in the workplace are not just moral. Top quartile companies for diversity are more likely to financially outperform industry medians.” - Stephen Cuppello, Senior Manager of Psychology, Thomas International

5. Accountability

Accountability within a team means holding oneself and others responsible for their actions and decisions, ensuring that each team member contributes effectively towards the collective objectives. The importance of accountability in team success is due to its role in transparency, trust, and the creation of a results-oriented culture, all of which ultimately drive performance and goal attainment.

To create a culture of accountability within a team, leaders should set clear expectations for individual roles and responsibilities, establish regular check-ins to monitor progress, and encourage peer-to-peer accountability to foster mutual support and responsibility. By implementing these strategies, teams can establish an environment in which every member is dedicated to delivering their best, resulting in a more efficient, cohesive, and successful team.

6. Continuous learning and improvement

Continuous learning and improvement are essential for team success, as they promote innovation, creativity, and adaptability in a constantly evolving landscape. In this context, learning speed has been shown to be more predictive of professional success than past experience. To create a culture of continuous improvement within a team, leaders should provide regular training and development opportunities, encourage feedback often to facilitate learning and development, and encourage experimentation without fear of failure.

Companies like Tesla and Google exemplify the power of continuous learning and improvement in achieving success. Tesla's successful pursuit of innovation in electric vehicles and renewable energy showcases the value of fostering a learning culture, while Google's commitment to experimentation and learning has enabled it to remain a dominant force in the tech industry. By embracing continuous learning and improvement, teams can ensure their long-term success and adaptability in an ever-changing world.

“If you’re not creating a learning culture in your business, how are you going to optimise performance?” - Dave Morris, Leadership Coach and Facilitator, Zentano Group

7. Results-oriented approach

A results-oriented approach is crucial for team success, as it ensures that all members are aligned towards a common goal and fosters a culture of achievement. To create an outcome-oriented culture within a team, leaders should clearly define goals that are both ambitious and attainable, establish a feedback culture to monitor progress and identify areas for improvement, as well as providing recognition for individual and team achievements.

Amazon and Apple are real-world examples of teams that have achieved success through a results-oriented approach. Amazon's relentless focus on customer satisfaction and innovation has propelled it to become a global e-commerce giant, and Apple's commitment to delivering cutting-edge products has cemented its position as one of the world’s most cutting-edge companies. By adopting a results-oriented mindset, teams can drive performance, innovation, and long-term success.

How to create a high-performing team 

In conclusion, high-performing teams exhibit seven key characteristics: strong leadership, clear communication, trust and collaboration, diversity and inclusion, accountability, continuous learning and improvement, and a results-oriented approach. These attributes form the foundation for success, allowing teams to work effectively and achieve their goals.

To create a high-performing team, leaders should focus on building a positive team culture that embraces open communication, trust, and collaboration. Providing regular feedback and recognition for individual and collective achievements is essential for maintaining motivation and fostering a sense of belonging. Establishing clear goals ensures that all team members work in harmony towards a common objective, while investing in employee development and training promotes continuous learning, adaptability, and innovation.

Creating a high-performing team takes time, effort, and commitment from both leaders and team members. However, the rewards of cultivating such a team are significant, as they translate into success, a positive workplace culture, and a solid foundation for long-term growth. By developing these seven core characteristics of high performing teams, organisations can effectively tackle challenges, capitalise on opportunities, and achieve their desired outcomes.

Ultimately, understanding and integrating these core principles is pivotal to assembling a team that not only performs at its best but also thrives in an ever-changing competitive environment.

To find out how psychometric insights can help you to enhance communication, de-escalate conflict and build balanced, diverse teams, visit www.thomas.co/successful-team-development.