High Performance Teams

This paper is based on 20 plus years’ experience helping to develop dozens of teams and reviewing the insights of many other well-researched sources.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” Aristotle
The best organisations are made up of great teams. No matter how talented people are, an organisation will limit its success if individuals don’t have the ability to work well together. Here are my top ten tips.
Tip 1: The ‘how’ outweighs the ‘who’
Google’s multi-year Project Aristotle assessed team effectiveness and found that what mattered was more about how the team worked together rather than who was on the team. This is a great argument for bringing the right people together for the right task with the right attitude. “The team is the molecular unit where real production happens, where innovative ideas are conceived and tested, and where employees experience most of their work.” The team structure, processes and composition work and the organisation’s best people are members of it, and are kept motivated and engaged
Tip 2: Teams need purpose & meaning
Teams need a clear unified purpose about where they are going and how to get there. Everyone knows what is expected of them and understands how those expectations relate to the larger goals and objectives of the organisation. The team’s direction is compelling and focused on what really matters. Every team member’s work must be meaningful. Meaning comes from hunger for emotional connection. Leaders of great teams find out what’s meaningful to each person and tailor the work assigned and how it’s framed accordingly. The fundamental questions for team members are:
  • Do I believe that the work I am doing matters?
  • Am I contributing to an organizational goal that matters?
  • Is my work making a difference?
The team leader should be skilled at linking the team’s purposes to the broader organisation and be able to mobilise people to achieve the purpose by holding them to account.
Tip 3: Safety & Trust
Psychological safety is our perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. In teams, it is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” In a safe team, people feel confident that no one will embarrass or judge them for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea. This is the essence of trust; a key condition for a team’s thriving. Where there is trust, problems are surfaced easily, help is readily sought, and nobody deliberately undermines the effort. Patrick Lencioni asks are we willing to be vulnerable with each other; acknowledge weaknesses, apologize willingly, remain unguarded and genuine and seek help. Are we confident that our peers’ intentions are good and that there are no reasons to be protective or guarded?
Tip 4: What is the team Collectively Accountable for?
Clarity is the entry point to high engagement. The team needs to be abundantly clear about what it is collectively accountable for that requires a high degree of interdependence amongst its members. These accountabilities are limited and do not represent all things – in fact, a high-performance team distinguishes between the issues that need everybody’s involvement from those that need some members involvement; and where an individual expert is trusted to ‘get on with it’ and be personally accountable. Having a greater sense of interdependence is more meaningful for people than the pursuit of individual goals; interdependent team tasks impact the work each member does, and the direction and resources used to get there. Team members need one another to get work done. Peer to peer accountability is critical.
  • Can we count on each other to deliver high-quality results on time (Dependability)?
  • Do we feel comfortable calling our peers on performance and behaviours that might hurt the team?
  • Can we offer unprovoked constructive feedback?
  • Do we feel pressure from peers to perform?
  • Are we willing to confront our peers in their areas of responsibility; question each other about our approaches and methods?
  • When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.
“When people are supportive of each other and follow a rational sequence in dealing with a problem, they are able to perform beyond the sums of their resources.”
Tip 5: Robust dialogue, buy-in
This is impossible without safety and trust. It is best seen as a conflict in the pursuit of ideas and concepts. Teams who do this well avoid personal attacks and teammates are unafraid of voicing an opinion at the risk of disagreement and actively solicit other opinions. The tough and important matters are heartily discussed and dealt with and when conflict arises they deal with it before moving on. The idea of ‘disagree and commit’ means you are all in. It is not about consensus but clarity and buy in where concerns are weighed, and the teams ‘call’ is valued. When the meeting is done there is no wavering. People leave team meetings with clear, specific resolutions and actions totally supportive and confident that everyone is committed to the decision made.
Tip 6: Emotional Resonance
Team members are emotionally intelligent, rather than just the smartest-of-the-smart. They can read the concerns and differences of others. They can be counted upon to do what they say they will do and will do something for the good of the company, even when it requires a personal sacrifice. Team members:
  • Read people’s concerns
  • Do what they say they will do
  • Show integrity to act for the good of the organisation
  • Are capable of personal sacrifice
  • Identify each other’s emotions as they happen and understand other’s emotional states such that they are able to respond appropriately
  • Manage their reactions to each other constructively even in an uncomfortable situation
  • Know and respect how the team behaves and interacts – Its habits and rituals
  • Maintain robust relationships under pressure and challenge
  • Work effectively and cooperatively with other parts of the organisation and external parties
Tip 7: Leveraging Talent
Talent is developed and leveraged, getting the best out of team members. Unique skills and talents are valued and utilised. People are trusted to do their jobs well. In particular, the team is well-led, and the leaders’ role is very clear. However, no one person has the sole responsibility for team leadership.
Tip 8: Supportive Context
A supportive organisational context with good systems, processes, development and the external advice and coaching that teams need is obvious and present.
Tip 9: Regular Review
Teams need to regularly review how they are going as a team, focussing on the conditions necessary for team success. This includes helpful feedback, encouragement, and continuous reinforcement and refinement of team goals. Creating an opportunity or forum to discuss team dynamics allows teams to talk about subtle issues in safe, constructive ways.
Tip 10: Collective Results
Collective performance outcomes and expectations should be clear, as should valuing team success more than individual. Teammates will make a sacrifice for the good of the team. When the team fails or succeeds everybody takes personal responsibility and there is no hesitance in pointing out the contributions and achievements of others. At Jim Grant + Associates we specialise in creating High Performance Teams. Learn more about our service offerings here.

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