What It Takes to Create a High Performance Team

You have likely seen, or been lucky enough to be part of, a high performance team at some point in your career. You may have been struck by the high level of trust present among colleagues or the team’s ability to work fluidly to accomplish a shared purpose. Perhaps what stood out was their ability to continually deliver results while having a good time doing it.


So why aren’t all teams like this? Well, for starters, in our fast-paced business world, teams tend to over-emphasize productivity - getting things done. We are tied to never-ending task lists and overflowing inboxes. We put our heads down, working hard to keep ourselves and our teams on track.


With an individual, it’s easy to see that being productive is not the same as being a high performer. The same is true for a team. A productive team is one that excels at getting work done. But a high performance team has established the cultural infrastructure and processes that enable it to adapt and innovate as well as accomplish.


In essence, these two types of teams have different motivations.  A productive team is driven to achieve a certain output whereas a high performance team is designed to achieve a certain objective.


What is a High Performance Team and Why Does It Matter


According to The Center for Organizational Design, a high performance team is “a group of people who share a common vision, goals, metrics and who collaborate, challenge and hold each other accountable to achieve outstanding results.”


Collaboration and teamwork are essential to many organizations’ success. As the world becomes more complex, with endless amounts of information and circumstances changing in minutes, it is more critical than ever to develop a team’s collective skills. A high performance team will remain agile and adaptable, sustaining their effectiveness as the project becomes more complex over time.


So how does a team make the leap? Keep reading.


#1 - Establish Shared Goals and Alignment


Every member of a high performance team has a clear understanding of and commitment to the shared team goal. But, the team’s alignment is much greater than that. Each individual understands how his or her contributions are in sync with the team’s goal. And, the team’s goal is connected to the organization’s overall mission, creating a line-of-sight between what the team will accomplish and how it will move the organization closer to its vision.


The Harvard Business Review published an article by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, called The Discipline of Teams (2005), which discussed in detail the specific attributes that define a truly effective team. Here’s a noteworthy excerpt:


“The essence of a team is common commitment. Without it, groups perform as individuals; with it, they become a powerful unit of collective performance”.

In addition to goal alignment, the team must have clarity on the roles and responsibilities of each member. It is essential that each person understand his or her own scope of work as well as how it integrates with everyone else’s.


#2 - Build A Positive Team Culture


A positive team culture creates an environment in which every team member flourishes, enabling each person to contribute his or her best work.  A few critical components of a positive culture are:


  • Mutual Accountability: Team members hold one another accountable and share a deep trust with common expectations.

  • Valuing All Perspectives: Everyone honors diversity in thinking, asking questions and raising concerns.

  • Emphasis on Learning: Individual self-awareness and sharing constructive criticism as well as positive feedback facilitate continuous improvement.


Everyone on the team contributes to building and sustaining the team culture. When these attributes are present, the foundation for a harmonious, effective and often downright fun team work environment is established.


#3 - Utilize Effective, Consistent Processes


The infrastructure of a high performance team is its processes. This is what enables the team to work fluidly. The following are a few of the key processes the team must manage:


  • Communication: Team members share information in a timely manner. This keeps everyone on the same page, even when new information arises and the context shifts.

  • Conflict Resolution: Issues and concerns are raised early and addressed head on.

  • Decision-making: Regardless of the decision-making framework (e.g. consultative, consensus, etc), the process for making decisions is clear.

  • Meetings: The team uses its collective time to move the work forward. Meetings are effective in that they have a defined purpose, achieve clear outcomes, and are an efficient use of time.


Moving Toward A High Performance Team


Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was any high performance team. We invite you to join us as we continue this 4-part series on high performance teams with case studies, articles from industry thought leaders, and actionable steps so you can enable your team to reach its high performance potential. Regardless of how your team currently functions, you can help your team go beyond productive to high performing.


But first, we want to hear from you. Have you ever been a part of a high performance team?

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