How to Build a High-Performance Team
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
There are two things required to build a high-performing team.
- Getting the basics in place right from the outset
- Having and using an easy mechanism for frequently addressing how well the team itself is functioning and then addressing any areas for improvement
In order to meet both these objectives, a “standard” for excellence of team performance is required. Similar to a standard for any other performance area, like quality standards on a production line or accounting standards in finance, the team must then hold themselves accountable to perform to these standards.
There are seven components that make up this standard of performance for a world-class team:
Each team needs a designated leader who carries final accountability for delivering the team’s mandate.
2. Unanimous focus on a common goal
The goal toward which the team is working needs to be explicitly clear and ideally written in a way that will allow everyone to know when success is achieved -- it will be self-evident. Each team member must be committed to the achievement of that goal and operating without hidden agendas or competing priorities.
3. Clearly defined roles for subgroups
For the sake of efficiency, members of a team often form smaller teams, or subgroups, operating in support of the larger team’s objective. Areas where subgroups often form are finance, marketing, communications and planning. It’s important to give each subgroup its own clear goal and to reinforce that it is the output of the larger team that’s most important, being careful not to let one subgroup (e.g. finance) become the tail that wags the dog.
4. Shared resources
The needs of the team must outweigh the need of any subgroup or individual, and so resources need to be allocated with the final objective in mind. This includes “hard” resources like money, space, equipment, tools, and people. However, the sharing of resources extends beyond that to include “soft” resources like ideas, feedback, innovative approaches, and insight. Often, these soft resources are either not appropriately valued, and hence not shared, or they are not immediately recognized as helpful and thus are ignored. Both these responses inhibit future sharing, which can ultimately lead to the team underperforming against its potential.
5. Effective and frequent communication
Communication within a team is its lifeblood, bringing clarity and understanding to each member, just as the blood brings oxygen to the brain. Whether or not the communication is effective, and frequent enough, is judged not by the sender but by other team members, who must all provide feedback when they feel this standard is not being met. In the case of a persistent problem in this area, the team leader must step in to resolve it.
6. Consistent, united and enthusiastic effort
It’s not fun, and not optimally productive, to be in a team where every member is not united and enthusiastically working toward achievement of the goal or when some are only intermittently engaged. That’s not to say there won’t be disagreements, conflicting opinions or differing viewpoints; however, these must be presented in such a way as to further the objective and strengthen, not weaken, the team.
7. Periodic and temporary suppression of the ego
Ego is good. It drives us to achieve excellence and promotes courage. However, uncontrolled ego can be very harmful to a team’s performance. This can be manifested in one of two ways. Either an individual dominates the group inappropriately (an oversized ego), or he consistently fails to make their point of view known (an undersized ego).
The objective is for each team member’s contribution to be felt within the team to the appropriate degree. This may mean temporarily suppressing one's own ego and allowing others to have the floor or temporarily “passing the baton” to another and encouraging him to speak up.
A real-world example
A quick-service restaurant seeking to improve teamwork illustrates this well. At the restaurant level, the team was focused intently on performance improvement with many individuals involved -- from taking the order to preparing and then delivering it, all at high speed. Further, these teams are often made up of staff members for whom this may be their first job or who are in the early stages of their career.
This organization applied four of the seven components most relevant to its world and began to give each other feedback against them on a regular basis, with the intention of improving team performance. They saw the following results:
- Team members became more engaged.
- Communication improved.
- Better feedback was received from the guests.
- Team leaders took more responsibility for results.
By periodically stopping to ask, “How are we doing in each of these seven areas?” any team can diagnose current reality, decide on a course of action going forward and, from there, take yet another step on the path to becoming brilliant.