High-performance teams are groups of motivated, goal-focused employees with complementary talents and skills who routinely produce superior results.
Visionary leaders will always capture the imagination. After all, it's a natural human inclination to put a face on success. But the truth is that business is a team sport. And although their images may be the ones that grace magazine covers, for every Steve Jobs or Walt Disney there are countless teams throughout their respective organisations working cooperatively to achieve company goals.
That said, not all teams provide the same value to their businesses. Certain exceptional work groups stand out above their peers, pushing the envelope and bringing in far greater returns. These high-performance teams use their specialised expertise and unwavering focus to consistently achieve outstanding results. But building high-performance teams isn't as simple as finding and uniting top talent under a single set of objectives; it demands a strategic approach to team development and an understanding of what exactly makes these groups so special.
Most teams can perform assigned tasks. High-performing teams take things further, bringing clear advantages to their parent organisations. Top benefits of high-performance teams include:
Managers of high-performance teams know that their people will get the job done without the need for constant supervision or micromanaging. Team members are autonomous and resourceful enough to deal with issues as they arise, so managers can focus more of their energies on strategic pursuits.
High-performance teams are made up of highly engaged employees. These operators understand their goals and are emotionally committed to the success of the company — beyond simply earning a paycheck. With a clear focus and drive towards success, high-performance teams require little, if any, external motivation.
High-performance teams are made up of exceptional individuals, but where those individuals truly shine is in their synergy. These teams understand their own strengths and weaknesses and work together in such a way that supports one another to achieve success.
Being fully self-motivated and able to depend on their team members allows high-performance teams to accomplish more in less time. These teams set a gold standard in productivity, unhampered by conflict or performance issues.
As a natural result of the above benefits, high-performance teams bring in significantly more revenue. At the same time, the reduced need for conflict-resolution and course-correction results in fewer management-related expenses. Together, these factors mean a greater return on the investments that go into forming and provisioning teams.
Although each high-performance team is unique, most share certain defining characteristics. These key attributes include:
High-performance team members know they can depend on one another, both inside and outside of the office. They cooperate effectively and support one another, and they don't let issues such as ego, resentment or personal drive get in the way of their team's success.
Communication is central to success. High-performance team members are fully transparent in exchanging knowledge, ideas and constructive feedback. Vital information is disseminated following a specific, established process. Conflict is addressed and resolved quickly before it can negatively impact productivity or quality of work.
High-performance teams are extremely well organised. Strategies are clearly laid out along with individual and team goals, and progress is measured using quantifiable metrics. Meetings are intentional and action-oriented and allow every member to work together to participate in making key decisions.
Roles within top teams are fully defined, as are expectations related to performance and accountability. Every team member has a complete grasp of their individual objectives, the company goals and how each relates to the other.
High-performance team members are not only more likely to receive appreciation; they are also much more likely to show it for others. Teams recognise greatness in their coworkers and are quick to celebrate it.
Emotional maturity is a factor in improved team performance. High-performance team members share positive emotions openly, but also share negative ones. This authenticity allows them to express their emotions in a healthy and appropriate way rather than using cognitive resources to suppress them.
High-performance team members are not content with what they already know; they demand ongoing development to continually enhance and improve upon their skill sets. They seek out learning opportunities that benefit their teams and companies.
Most teams can perform adequately when everything goes according to plan. It is when emergent situations force teams into uncharted territory that high-performance teams really begin to shine. High-performance teams are extremely adaptable, capable of pivoting quickly to address new issues or demands without a drop in productivity.
Although there will always be times of frustration where negative emotions must be addressed, high-performance teams generally have high morale and a positive outlook. They are prepared to deal with any problems they might encounter, so they do not let anxiety stand in the way of success.
Finally, high-performance teams depend on strong leaders. While every member of the team is personally motivated without being micromanaged, leaders are vital to success in that they help define goals, provide an environment conducive to collaboration and demonstrate a clear example by participating in positive company culture. When guidance is needed, leaders are there to help their teams improve.
High-performance team members can come from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds, but within the team itself they tend to take on roles consistent with the following types:
Offering new ideas and innovative solutions to problems, creatives are the outside-the-box thinkers that provide a spark of inventiveness.
Go-getters are laser focused on achieving results and can be considered the "workhorses" of high-performance teams.
Facilitators establish the necessary processes and systems to promote efficiency and organisation within the team.
Highly analytical and capable of working through complex issues to find solutions, thinkers are extremely intelligent and direct their intellect towards team success.
Team promoters are the ones who act as liaisons between the team and external support resources. They excel at communicating and networking and are clearly focused on big-picture objectives.
One of the most important players in establishing and developing high-performance teams is an effective human resources (HR) department. HR is involved in team success at every stage and helps promote increased team performance in the following ways:
HR may be primarily responsible for selecting top talent from among a diverse pool of potential hires. This involves doing more than simply selecting those with impressive backgrounds or accomplishments; it means choosing hires that can contribute unique talents and perspectives to support high performance in a team setting.
HR takes the lead in the onboarding process, helping ensure that high-performance team members have the right resources and understanding of their work they need to work effectively.
No employee comes into a new team setting with all of the skills and knowledge they need for success. HR is instrumental in the initial training and later upskilling of teams, strengthening competencies and promoting a mindset of ongoing improvement.
HR helps establish working conflict resolution systems, so that when issues arise within the team, there are processes in place to resolve these conflicts constructively.
The right acknowledgement can help top performers excel even further. HR should take the lead in establishing award/recognition systems to help ensure that high-performance team members are being properly celebrated, while also inspiring other teams to improve.
HR can play a key role in establishing and tracking performance metrics to measure the success of teams and initiatives. This helps clearly define team priorities, so high-performing groups know exactly what benchmarks are in place.
Even with the best available talent, resources and direction, it takes time and strategy to turn employees into high-performance teams. To guide their teams from average to exceptional, organisations should consider the following development framework:
The process of building a high-performance team starts with assembling the right talent and laying out goals and responsibilities. Expectations should be clearly expressed, along with key performance indicators (KPIs) and success conditions. Team members during this phase may display equal parts excitement and trepidation; give them an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns in a safe environment and provide clear opportunities for members to get to know each other to develop relationships of trust.
With the team in place, the next stage focuses more heavily on the goals themselves. Large objectives are broken down into more manageable milestones. If necessary, goals may be re-evaluated using new data and better team insights. At this point, teams will likely need to work on developing additional skills relevant not only to achieving their goals, but also communicating and collaborating as a group.
Once team goals are more accurately defined and team members have the understanding and skills to achieve them, everyone involved can now focus the majority of their energy towards increasing productivity. At this point, team output will typically see a major jump. When properly celebrated, this early success can lead to further acceleration towards achieving team goals.
Ideally, the team is now confident and effective in performing their duties. Now is an excellent time to evaluate the team's processes and the performance of individual members. Place the team under a microscope and take the time to address any inefficiencies, communication problems, conflicts or other issues that may be preventing the team from operating at optimal levels.
In the final stage, the team should now be fully competent and making major progress towards achieving its objectives. But with this confidence may come an inclination to get comfortable. Don't allow complacency to set in; focus on providing teams with options and incentives to further expand their skill sets. Where team members show exceptional results, have processes in place to publicly recognise those wins.
High-performance teams are a major boon to any organisation. Unfortunately, there are many barriers that teams and organisations need to overcome before they can see this level of success. The following issues can easily hamper otherwise high-performing teams, blunting their productivity and effectiveness:
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