Developing High Performance Teams

“No man is wise enough by himself” Plautus

High Performance Teams (HPT’s) are an important factor in business success as, through the consistently high levels of collaboration and innovation they generate, they are able to produce superior results.

What is a team?

A team is usually defined as,

“two or more people are working together with a shared purpose.”

This is a broad definition, but some common themes emerge from the research about the essence of effective teams. They are that team members need to:

  • Have a clear goal or purpose or ‘mission’
  • Possess (or learn) the necessary skills to be able to do good work
  • Take personal responsibility for contributing towards achieving the goal
  • Accept that they can’t do whatever they feel like but need to allow their actions to be coordinated with their colleagues; this will require a level of trust to be present within the group.

What is a high performance team?

The term “High Performance Team” simply describes a team that consistently show exceptionally high levels of collaboration and innovation that produce superior results. First described in the 1950’s by the Tavistock Institute, these teams will often achieve a quantum leap in business result within one year. The HPT is usually regarded as a tight-knit group so focused on their goal that they will surmount any barrier to achieve the team’s goals.

What makes for effective teamwork?

The main keys to effective teamwork are that people have:
(i) a goal that the team members really care about, and
(ii) the underpinning knowledge and skills to act competently.

In addition, studies also show a strong relationship between team effectiveness and flexibility, trust, adaptability (the team have faith in their ability to solve problems), dealing with conflict without allowing grudges to build up and maintaining high morale (Baker et al. 2005a; Gully et al. 1995, 2002)

Balancing skills and building capabilities

Within the high-performance team, people are knowledgeable and skilled and so can make a positive contribution to the successful achievement of team goals. They are also able (at least to some extent) to interchange their roles, so they can adapt to changes in circumstances, such as an upsurge in workload in a specific area. This need for having skilled people means that team selection is of vital importance in the development of the HPT. It also means that on-going learning and skills acquisition are a vital element in a HPT.

Creating a shared culture and celebrating differences

It is also the case that team members understand that a variety of outlooks and working styles will be needed to address the various challenges that they will face and so are willing to tolerate individual personality traits, cultural differences and problem solving approaches. At the same time the HPT will also develop its own “collective consciousness” and have an agreed set of values or ‘ground rules’ for how people treat each other and how they behave towards customers, internal departments and other stakeholders. As part of this they have robust methods of resolving conflict efficiently, so that disagreements don’t become a roadblock to achieving the team’s goals.

Getting the ‘top team’ aligned and performing well

Patrick Lencioni in, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, highlights five key factors that need to be handled, in order, to create an effective senior management team. They are:

  1. Trust (this first component is the foundation stone of a good team and is the most essential factor in the model.)
  2. Positive conflict based on debating ideas and being open about concerns or doubts
  3. Commitment to decisions and action plans. (So there is no ‘talking out of school’ and no briefing against colleagues.)
  4. Holding each other accountable for implementing plans
  5. Focus on achieving collective results (i.e. emphasis on team targets rather than purely individual goals)

Getting these five factors right, and Lencioni has a number of tools that he suggests using to work on each of the areas, is vital if the Executive Team is to move as a cohesive unit.

So what’s next???

Next time we will look at some of the problems and difficulties that are encountered when developing a HPT but to end with here is a quote from a US sporting super star, Babe Ruth;

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime”

Native Spanish speakers can now read this post in their own language at Desarrollo de Equipos de Alto Rendimiento