High-Performing Teams

It’s not enough to pull together a group of people with the right skills and talent – if they’re not working together as a team, then they’re not performing at their highest level, no matter how good they are alone. Studies have found that high-performing teams are almost twice as likely to have above-average performance. As the baseball great Yogi Berra is famous for saying, “talent wins games, but teamwork...wins championships.”

team dynamics

What Is a High-Performing Team?

A team is made up of individuals working together to attain a shared goal, but for it to be truly high performing, the team must possess attributes that set it apart from the rest. In this case, top-performing groups tend to yield outstanding and measurable outcomes that go above and beyond set goals. 

Building high-performing teams requires intentional and clear leadership, and establishing the conditions that allow team members to thrive both individually and as part of the greater whole. There’s no “one trick” that will allow you to do this, but there are concrete steps you can take to help your teams shine.

Characteristics of High-Performing Teams

First, we need to identify what makes a team high performing, and what differentiates those teams from merely average or adequate working groups. Here are some key elements that high-performance teams share:

Direction

High-performing teams have a distinct goal to work towards a shared purpose. This makes it easier to agree on their priorities and clearly define their specific roles. When everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing, what they are meant to achieve and when, they heighten their chances of success. 

Alignment

Every team in an organization has to interact with stakeholders, customers, other employees, and in large enough organizations, other teams. A well-aligned high-performing team understands external and internal parties, sustains cohesion, and works to preserve a mutual agreement on corporate strategies. Teams that work well together tend to have shared values, meaning that building a strong culture around those values is essential to nurturing your teams.

Connection

Individuals on teams that perform at high levels recognize the need for trust, respect, and communication. After clearly defining each person's responsibility, they trust one another to accomplish the tasks that fall under it. Open communication allows the team members to easily and seamlessly share ideas as well as challenges and vulnerabilities while respecting one another. 

This goes a long way toward creating a strong connection and bond within a team. And where there's trust and connection, there are results. Conversely, lack of trust can lead to defensive behaviors, encourage conflict and slow progress. 

Performance 

Well-optimized teams have an innate ability to prioritize work or projects accordingly. That is, they clearly distinguish work that is of the highest urgency and that offers the greatest impact. They tend to focus on those first and then work their way down the priority list as they continually manage tasks to meet organizational goals and yield high results. 

Attitude

It’s important to remember that just because a team is high-performing, that doesn’t mean that it never fails or makes mistakes. On the contrary, high-performing teams can fail at work projects and tasks, and sometimes will. The difference is in how these teams handle failure. That’s what sets them apart – even when they fail, they adapt and learn from it. Furthermore, they can and will accept feedback gracefully, without resentment or frustration.

The Business Case for High-Performing Teams

High-performing teams are not just exceptional work units, they’re also an incredible asset to any business. Teams that are particularly well aligned are more likely to meet their goals and business objectives and to do so in a timely manner – especially in competitive industries. This is a key differentiator and something that smart leaders will work to encourage.

At the employee level, these teams are more motivated to work towards a shared goal. They trust that each individual in the team is pulling their weight and are less likely to feel discouraged. This is why members of such teams tend to be happier, more engaged, and more highly motivated. 

On an organizational level, such teams need less guidance and management from leadership, allowing management to get out of the way of their top performers. They are highly independent and self-motivated when it comes to finding out the necessary information and developing creative problem-solving ideas. They are also far more likely to seek out and improve relationships with stakeholders and provide excellent customer service where applicable. 

All of these elements work together to create a high-performing group that drives efficiency and yields outcomes that translate into increased revenue. 

The Effect of Leadership on Teams

characteristics of high performing teams

You've identified a group of individuals that demonstrate high-quality attributes. They are self-driven problem solvers that continually think ahead and are quick to adapt to changing circumstances. These individuals demonstrate a level of commitment to attaining corporate goals and always seem optimistic and energetic

This team has strong potential to become a high-performing team, but it's not enough to bring them together and leave it at that. Teams need a leader that can take those attributes and nurture them. 

Here's what you'll need to do as the leader of a high accomplishing team: 

  • Make sure each team has diversity of thought and experience and is equipped to encourage the sharing of ideas
  • Keep your teams educated and informed; technology is constantly changing the workplace
  • Make sure that the team is stable – that there isn’t substantial movement or turnover
  • Encourage team cohesion by working to instill shared values 
  • Encourage a team culture centered around open communication

Failing to pair your high-performing teams with good leadership can have serious consequences, including dampening motivation or creativity; creating instability, confusion, or frustration; or losing your high performers (both teams and individuals).

Building a Better Team

Building a well-tuned, top-performing team is never easy, but in an increasingly competitive corporate environment, it’s critical to your success. New technologies are constantly shifting the business landscape and empowering new competitors, but a strong team will help you weather those changes.

Creating and nurturing a high-performing team isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. You'll need to identify its attributes correctly – its strengths and weaknesses matter. You'll also need to identify which individuals are more likely to work better together as a team while still maintaining a high level of diversity across the team. Still, investing in your teams is just as important as investing in new tools or in high-performing individuals. If you want to build a business that lasts and stays innovative and competitive, this is not something you can afford to overlook.

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