A business is only as strong as its team, but creating a truly high-performing one takes a lot of work and commitment. Once you manage to achieve it, the rewards are plentiful – from a more productive company to happier employees. We previously looked at the skills needed for effective team leaders.
We’re going to share the six key characteristics of a high-performing team as well as five simple steps to develop them within your company. To see them in action, we’ll explore a couple of the most prominent high-performance team models:
The rocket team performance model
Drexler/Sibbit Team Performance model
Let’s dive in!
High Performing Team Definition
Before we get to that, let’s try and establish what a high-performing team is. There is no fixed definition of a high performing team, but generally, within businesses, they can be described as:
A highly focused group that achieves superior business results, outperforming similar teams as well as the expectations one might have of a group of that composition.
What are the Common Characteristics of High-Performing Teams?
There are a few characteristics that high-performance teams tend to share, regardless of the industry or department, they work in. Understanding what these qualities are is the first step to being able to develop them within your own team or company.
1. Sharing Clear Goals Which Are Aligned with The Organization’s Vision
One of the most common features that you’ll find in high-powered teams is a clear set of goals, all of which are aligned to the larger goals and vision of the organization. There are various methods of setting good team goals, such as:
Involve your team members in setting their goals, don’t just give them tasks. They will have a good idea of what they can contribute, and collaborative goal-setting encourages people to work together in new ways.
Include clear deadlines. This helps ensure that work is delivered on time and helps each member of a high-performing team plan their own time and stay in line with wider company objectives.
Make goals measurable. Any goal should have a clear way to assess how close you are to reaching it to maintain motivation, keep people on track, and make each team member accountable.
Offer incentives, whether it’s compensation, recognition, or rewards (and preferably all three). They can act as powerful motivators to reach goals and show that the company cares and acknowledges when goals are met.
There are many other ways to set good goals for a high-performing team, so spend some time reading up on the most effective methods.
2. Share A Clear View of The Organization’s Mission and The Role They Play in It
According to a study by the Gallup Organization, organizations with engaged employees report 22% higher productivity. Moreover, engaged employees are also more likely to have greater well-being at work, which has numerous knock-on effects that can benefit your team, company, and each individual in it.
One way that high-performing teams differ from other groups is that they are engaged, and this is in part thanks to sharing a clear view of company objectives and more importantly, where they fit into that plan.
Knowing that you’re a necessary part of a team that is helping to drive bigger goals shines a light on your individual contributions. In fact, a 2017 survey found that “not feeling valued as a member of staff” was the third most common reason for wanting to switch jobs – and high turnover does not make for a high-performing team.
3. The Team Has Clear Structure, with Defined Roles and Responsibilities
In addition to having a clear view of how each individual fits into the wider company objectives, high-performing teams also offer a clear structure with defined roles and responsibilities.
Clearly defined roles in a work team offer transparent expectations for everyone, which can allow an employee to be confident in their role and reduce redundancy. This helps them, improves company efficiency, and reduces friction from overlapped roles.
4. Foster an Environment That Manages Work-Based Priorities
As an individual, being able to prioritize the most important tasks in your day will improve your productivity severalfold. The same is true of teams, which is why we see exceptional work-based priority management in the highest-performing teams.
There are several ways to prioritize tasks, but one of the most effective is a priority matrix, which can help teams focus on the most useful tasks at any given time. The simple yet powerful Eisenhower Matrix is based on importance and urgency. A task is held against these two criteria and prioritized as such:
- Do: Important and urgent
- Schedule: Important but not urgent
- Delegate: Urgent but not important
- Ignore: Not important, not urgent
A visual matrix such as this can be quickly and simply drawn up in a collaborative team note and used to really streamline a high-performance team’s prioritization.
5. Recognize Each Individual’s Contribution to the Overall Success of the Team
Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say, but what we often see with high-performing teams is a focus on individual and group achievement. As mentioned earlier, recognition should be part of goal setting, and recognizing each individual’s contribution is vital for a productive team.
Being recognized for contributions to a team’s success can help employees feel valued, improving motivation, engagement, and productivity. At the same time, it is equally important to recognize team successes since this can improve camaraderie and future collaboration.
6. Keep Improving Constantly
One of the most important characteristics of a high-performing team is never saying “well, we’re as good as we can be.” This doesn’t mean setting increasingly hard goals to the point of failure, but rather fostering an environment of continuous learning. Each employee and the team as a whole should grow in their roles and skills.
Constant learning is the foundation of how people expand their knowledge, improve their skills and build their toolset, all of which support organizational goals.
So, now you know some of the characteristics common to high-performing teams, it’s time to take a look at how you can build, develop and maintain them in your own team.
How to Build, Develop and Maintain High-Performing Teams
Knowing what we know about high-performing teams, we can put together some starting points for creating, developing, and maintaining your own high-performing team. One of the most important things to remember is that each team, and individual, is unique, so you’ll have to base your decisions on your own experience and relationships.
There are a few fundamentals that we can go through to get you started on the path to a high-performing team. We’re going to cover:
The importance of stability
How a secure environment can boost a team
How open communication is key
Why professional development is vital
How goal setting can make or break a team
Stability Is important!
The composition of a team is the foundation of its success, and if that foundation isn’t stable, then it won’t get far. The first thing to consider when forming a stable team is the number of individuals in it. Small teams tend to perform better, with one 2012 study finding that teams of two completed a given task in 36% less time than teams of four.
That said, if a team is too small, it lacks diversity, which can result in less dynamic decision-making and a reduced pool of skills and knowledge. Small teams can also lack the capacity to carry out large projects, or even simultaneous small projects.
Beyond the size of a team, you also need to look at how team members’ skills, experience, and personalities mesh with one another. There is little point in building a power team only to realize that none of them can work together. Taking the time to start out stable when building a high-performing team will pay dividends in the future.
Create an Open Team Dynamic and Environment
It’s important that team members are aligned in their values as well as holding a shared vision, specifically, one that fits with your company goals. However, true high-performing teams are as competent in disagreement as they are when aligned, at least when it comes to specifics.
Team members should be able to give and receive feedback and act on that feedback. It can be very hard to develop a work environment that is open enough to encourage honest feedback, so management should focus on high-performing teams. Some simple ways of doing this are leading by example by:
Asking for specific feedback. Rather than waiting for feedback, ask the team members if they have any thoughts about what you’ve said or done. Doing this regularly will make people comfortable with the idea of feedback.
Practice active listening. When in a conversation, people tend to think about what they’re going to say next rather than what the other person is actually talking about. This can be disastrous with feedback, so actively focus on listening.
Make a list of changes/next steps. If you get feedback, make a list of action steps to fix or improve. If you start with yourself, it can show the value of honest feedback.
This system of open feedback should be part of a wider focus on open communication, which we’ll take a look at now.
Open Communication Is a Must
Strong communication should be a focal point of any company looking to develop high-performing teams. Failing to do so can cost your business dearly while spending a little time to get comms channels right can lead to a massive boost in productivity and go a long way to maintaining a high-performing team.
You should encourage communication between team members; external communication (to leads, clients, etc); clear info dissemination (company policies, etc); and open feedback.
The first step of improving communication for a high-performing team is talking to the members and figuring out their preferred communication styles. This will help engage them in the communication process but will likely result in a variety of communications channels as you cater to the needs of the team as well as the needs of the information – a presentation should be a video call rather than an email, for example.
Once the methods you need have been established, you must ensure you have the right tools for the job. Stop switching between multiple apps and find a single platform that offers all the key communication channels that you need in a modern workplace. These will generally be:
Each tool is useful for a different situation but combined, they offer a full suite for any high-performing team.
Emphasis on Team and Personal Professional Development
As mentioned earlier, one of the key characteristics of high-performing teams tends to focus on continuous learning. You need to encourage this development if you want to maintain that performance.
Encouragement of team and personal professional development should start by fostering team culture of curiosity within the company. Supporting team members by asking questions and then following up to discover the answer also includes a very practical aspect.
For example, you could offer your team development opportunities to learn new software, explore soft skills, or even pursue formal training and education. This should be combined with team-building opportunities to allow them to develop as a team as well as individually.
Listening to your team is key. Ask them what they want to learn or develop. Ask about what would help them do their job better. Ask where the company is failing to support them. Use this to direct learning opportunities.
Set Clear Goals
Building, developing, and maintaining a high-performing team is one of the most important factors for success. Using a goal system such as SMART goals can achieve this. SMART goals follow a structure of five points, one for each letter of the word. Using this method, goals should be:
Specific – How can a pie-in-the-sky idea be more specific. Go from general concepts to targeted areas of work.
Measurable – Include quantifiable milestones to work through as well as a final point that can be seen easily to be either done or not done.
Attainable – Is your goal realistically achievable? Or is it an overshoot, leading to a loss of motivation?
Relevant – A goal should be connected to the relevant project and person. Don’t give a team member a goal that has no bearing on their role.
Timely – Include deadlines. Time-bound goals are more actionable and easier to manage, especially through prioritization.
The SMART Goal technique is just one of many that you can use to build and manage your high-performing team, just remember to test them out with feedback from your team!
With these techniques for building a high-performing team in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of the most popular high-performance team models.
High-Performance Teams Models
Team performance models are guidelines and frameworks that can be used to take your employees from a disparate group to a high-performing team. There are many different models out there, but below we’re going to be focussing on two:
The rocket team performance model
Drexler Sibbit Team Performance model
The Rocket Team Performance Model
The Rocket Model™ is a framework aimed at getting you a high-performing team. It was developed based on feedback from active managers around the world and can be used to diagnose team dynamics and provide tools and activities to boost team performance.
This model is visualized as a rocket of seven building blocks: Power, mission, talent, norms, buy-in, resources, morale, and results (at the top). A cloud of Context surrounds these. These eight parts start with eight critical questions for your team to answer:
Context (that’s the cloud): what are our critical assumptions?
This is all about team alignment as we talked about earlier. Are the team members coming from the same place or is there a disconnect that will cause problems down the line?
Mission: why are we here?
What are the goals? Team goals, personal goals, company goals. If you are successful as a high-performing team, what will that success actually look like?
Talent: do we have the talent we need?
The stability mentioned earlier is all focused on the members of your team. Selecting the right people for the job is the first step towards high performance.
Norms: what are the rules?
What are the expectations of the team? The shared norms of your team might develop over time, but to kickstart performance it’s important to set them out clearly.
Buy-in: are we all committed to success?
Are the people in the team committed to the team, the organization, and the goals you’re setting?
Resources: do we have the resources needed?
These are tangible resources: office supplies, hardware, and software for a modern high-performing team.
Courage: how do we work through disagreements?
Working through disagreements will be much easier if you have already established a workplace with clear and open feedback. But, when conflict does arise, you need to establish how to manage it.
Results: are we achieving our goals?
High-performing teams are goal-oriented, so you need to establish ways to measure and track your progress and whether or not you’re hitting your targets.
The Drexler/Sibbit Team Performance Model
The Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance® Model is broken down into seven stages: four to build the high-performing team and three to follow increasing sustained performance levels.
The seven stages are as follows:
The first stage is orientation and is focused on understanding why your team exists and what being a member of it entails.
As the name suggests, the second step is all about building trust. In this context, trust is about how willing members of a team are to work with each other – can they trust the other members will pull their weight?
Next, your team must establish the targets of the team as well as the roles of each of the members within that team. What are you moving towards and what is your role within it?
At this stage, the team has its goals and roles, now comes a concrete plan of action in which the team commits to how exactly it will achieve the goals.
This is a practical step of outlining who is doing what task and when – not roles, but actual scheduling of the work that needs to be done and doing that work.
At this stage, your team is already high-performance (congratulations!). You can’t do much but monitor and observe successes, failures, and what led to them.
A high-performing team is not a perpetual motion machine, and as such, you’ll need to revisit some of the earlier steps in order to keep your team reaching the high-performance stage.
Building, developing, and maintaining a high-performing team can be hard work, but the costs are certainly worth the rewards when it comes to hitting goals and driving your organization forward. To start, remember some of the key characteristics that high performing teams have:
Clear shared goals
A view of the organization’s mission
A clear structure, with defined roles and responsibilities
A prioritized workplace
Recognition for individual and team achievements
To instill these characteristics in your own team, start building a stable base by selecting employees. From there, create an environment that’s open to feedback and, importantly, has multiple usable communication channels. Next, ensure there is practical support for professional development and, of course, set clear and actionable team goals!
Check Out The Entire Team Leadership Series
- Rediscovering Healthy Team Leadership for 2024
- Leadership Styles: The Ultimate Guide for 2024
- Traits for Success: The Must-Have Skills for Effective Team Leaders
- How to Build and Maintain a High-performing Team
- Setting Team Goals
- The Art of Active Listening
- How to Build Trust and Rapport With Your Team
- How to Provide Feedback and Recognition to Your Team
- How to Manage Conflict Within a Team
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