Building and Sustaining High Performing Teams

Work teams run projects, develop new products or services and help fulfill the overall mission of your company. Building high-performing teams can improve overall performance and make it easier to accomplish long-term goals.


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What is a high-performance work team?

A high-performance work team is a group of people with well-defined skills working together to accomplish specific goals for your company. While you can form an effective work team made up of whoever is available in the office, a high-performance team includes people chosen for their individual skills and how those skills fit in with others on the team.


Examples of high-performing teams

Businesses use a few different types of high-performing teams to organize workflow and accomplish goals. A company may have multiple high-performance teams, each focused on a specific objective or area of expertise. A few of the most common forms of work teams are:


Project teams

Project teams focus on a specific short-term goal and usually utilize people from a few different departments who can bring specialized knowledge to the team.


Management teams

A company may have one or more management teams, including the executive team at the top and management teams for various branches or offices in the organization.


Virtual teams

Virtual teams are made up of individuals who may be in different physical locations but who work together using technology. Some ways a virtual team can communicate and collaborate include virtual conferencing, shared cloud-based files, time management tools and project tracking software.


Autonomous work teams

An autonomous team has full control over the activities and organization of the team. This means that the team manages itself without input from the larger organization and can respond immediately to issues instead of waiting for approval from company management.


Characteristics of a high-performing team

High-performing teams work together as a cohesive unit, so the members of the team need to be able to rely on each other. Team members should also be able to maintain a high level of engagement with their work and should communicate well to reduce misunderstandings that could slow down the project. Members of a high-performing team share a common goal, and all have a stake in the success of the team. The highest-performing teams often share these common characteristics:


Trust between team members

Team members who trust each other feel comfortable sharing ideas and working through conflicts. Trust helps keep morale high and boosts team productivity because everyone is confident about their place on the team and can concentrate on work instead of what someone else meant or whether other team members are doing their part to make the project a success. Team-building exercises early in team formation can help establish trust among team members who haven’t worked together previously.


Complementary skill sets

High-performing teams are made up of members who have skills that complement each other. Each member brings individual strengths to the team that help make a greater whole.


Well-defined roles

On a high-performing team, each member’s role is well defined. This helps reduce task overlap and eliminates confusion about each team member’s responsibilities. Defining each person’s role also lets team members identify exactly who to go to with questions or ideas about a specific part of the project.


Good communication

While good individual communication skills are essential for a high-performance team, clear team communication processes are just as important. Digital communication tools, including email, private forums and video calls, can help your team stay in contact and collaborate effectively.


Shared responsibility for goals

A high-performance team knows that success depends on everyone working together. Establishing a specific mission and vision for the team early on in the process ensures that everyone on the team supports the same ideals and helps establish a great team culture.


Effective leadership

A good leader provides the framework and tools necessary for team success but doesn’t micromanage the process. From building a high-performance team to soothing over any miscommunications and removing obstacles along the way, the team leader should be involved in every step of the process.


Team autonomy

High-performance teams work best when the members are given an opportunity to act independently without consulting company management for approval before making decisions. Managers should trust the team to act autonomously within the bounds of its mission or goal.


How to build and sustain high-performing work teams

Building and sustaining high-performing work teams can be a challenge, so having a plan is essential. Consider how many people you want on your team and what roles you need filled to make the team work, and define the goals for your team before you begin. Keep in mind that building a high-performance team isn’t just about managing high performers on an individual basis. It’s also about making sure those high performers can work together to create something even greater.


Steps to build your high-performance work team

When you’re ready to build your team, a step-by-step approach simplifies the process. There are four main steps to developing a high-performing work team:


1. Forming the team

During the team formation process, company management or team leaders assess potential team members to determine who might work well on the team. Choosing team members isn’t simply a matter of picking people with the right expertise. It also requires finding people who can work well together. Team dynamics matter as much as technical skills in a high-performance team. You may also want to consider building a team with diverse backgrounds to add a variety of perspectives.


Things to consider when hiring or assigning people to your high-performance team include:

  • What secondary skills the person has that could benefit the team
  • Whether the candidate has the energy and drive to persevere through obstacles the team might encounter
  • If the person is a good team player in your organization or more of an individual star who may not function as well on the team
  • How the employee handles accountability and personal responsibility at work
  • Is this a stable employee who plans to remain at the company for a while

2. Onboarding

The onboarding process is when the team leader lays out the expectations for individual team members and for the team as a whole. This can also include conflict management training and goal-setting sessions where the roles of each team member are defined.


Another part of the onboarding process is establishing alignment, which involves getting everyone on the same page as far as the team’s shared goals and how everyone will work together to get there. Team leadership may need to remind everyone of the company mission and why this team in particular is being formed. By the end of the onboarding process, each team member should have a clear idea of the company’s overall goal for the team and what the team as a whole is striving to accomplish.


3. Working together

Once expectations and goals are set, your high-performing team is ready to get to work on the assigned task, project or goal. The team leader acts as a facilitator to get the resources your team needs and to manage any interpersonal conflicts that might arise during the process.


In many teams, members try to avoid conflict, but a high-performing team needs to embrace it. If trust and respect are established among team members from the start, conflicts can be resolved instead of being glossed over or ignored. Open communication between team members and with team leadership helps encourage effective conflict resolution.


4. Achieving the goal

After working together for a while, your team may reach the original set goal and be ready for new challenges. Establishing a formal process for assessing performance after goal completion and planning your next steps can help move your team from one project to the next.


Providing effective leadership for a high-performing team

A good leader helps provide the conditions necessary for a team’s success, and this is especially important for high-performance teams that often operate autonomously. Some ways to provide effective leadership for a high-performing team include:


Setting clear, actionable goals

Leaders set the overall team vision and also establish individual goals for each team member to meet. As the team leader, you can see the overall picture and where each member fits into the team, so you can assign the right duties to the right person. Develop accountability measures that let team members report their progress at specific intervals.


Building team member skills

Teams perform best when the team members feel challenged and engaged, so a good team leader provides opportunities for individual growth. This might mean providing training to keep team members up to date on the latest software, tools or equipment in your field. It might also include one-on-one meetings with each team member to set individual performance goals and long-term personal development goals.


Optimizing team efficiency

Team leaders should always be on the lookout for ways to improve efficiency. Do regular reviews of your team’s existing processes and look for new, more efficient ways to streamline the team’s workflow. Establishing team norms gives everyone a baseline to work from and helps everyone carry out their individual tasks more effectively.


Maintain good communication

Encourage team members to come to you with any concerns or issues before major problems develop. Establish regular meetings with each team member to keep communication open. Leaders should also choose specific communication tools for team members to use so everyone is sharing information in the same way.


Empower your team members

Part of sustaining a high-performance team is recognizing that you’ve chosen the members of the team because of their ability to work independently. Instead of making all decisions for the team and delegating tasks, give your team members a say in major team decisions. Nurture leadership traits in team members, and create pathways for growth so they can take over leadership roles within the team.




What is the difference between a team and a highly effective team?

A regular work team is simply a group of people working on a common goal. A highly effective team, or high-performance team, is more directed and has members chosen for their specific skill set and the ability to work with other members of the team. A high-performance team gets more done in a quicker time frame and may be able to accomplish goals less efficient teams cannot.


What are the benefits of a high-performing team?

The big benefits of a high-performing team are productivity and efficiency. Because this type of team is built from the ground up to collaborate well together, the team works better as a whole.


What is a high-performance culture?

A high-performance culture at work is a company environment that encourages worker engagement, productivity and collaboration. Successful high-performing teams establish a high-performance culture within the team.

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