As someone who has coached many leadership and operational teams over the past 30 years, I continually get asked what traits are typical of truly high-performing teams.
First, here is the Wikipedia definition of a high-performing team:
“A High-Performing Team is a concept within organizational development referring to teams, organizations, or virtual groups that are highly focused on their goals and that achieve superior business results. High-performance teams outperform all other similar teams and they outperform expectations given their composition.”
I will add to Wikipedia‘s definition here, by pointing out that high-performing teams CONSISTENTLY outperform other similar teams, and they CONSISTENTLY exceed expectations given their composition.
Given the definition above, and based on 30 years of coaching as well as thousands of team-based, emotional intelligence culture audits, I’ve observed seven competencies that are most critical to team success.
Communication – Having healthy, tough, and frequent conversations. High performing teams frequently meet, communicate, and share information. They also do not delay critical conversations when they are needed, and they conduct these conversations in a way that maintains the dignity and respect of individuals. A high-performing team communicates effectively upwards, sideways, and downwards.
Self-Awareness – Accurate assessment of strengths and limitations. This encompasses the ability of the leader and each team member to be in tune with their roles, the power and influence they yield, and their strengths and blind spots, both individually and as a team. High-performing teams clearly
understand how their words and actions affect other people and influence the desired outcomes. High-performing teams also seek continuous feedback from each other, and even outside the team, to help increase self-awareness through clarity and diversity of thought.
Resiliency – Maintaining productivity while minimizing emotions. High-performing teams believe they can complete tasks together effectively. They share a common mental model of teamwork. They are able to improvise and adjust mindfully to changing circumstances in real time. They do so while keeping emotions in check and staying focused on the bigger picture and overall goal.
Consistency – Repeatable and proven processes with consistent behaviors and actions. Consistency allows for measurement, creates accountability, establishes a team culture, and enables trust to be built and maintained. High-performing teams evaluate, measure, and confirm the processes that lead to desired efficiencies and outcomes. They are also consistent in their actions, reactions, and communications.
Flexibility – Willingness to change and/or compromise. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. If someone on a team is unable to change gears and refocus, odds are more issues will arise to complicate the workflow process and/or team dynamics. High-performing teams adjust, modify and compromise. They also let go of rigid or dogmatic behaviors and beliefs in the interests of the team and the desired outcomes. High-performing team members never say things such as “that’s not my job” or “I’m not on board with that decision.” Collaboration and open communication are key to flexibility.
Outcomes-Driven – Consistent focus on desired results and outcomes. Task-focused teams do a bunch of activities and look at the results afterwards—but outcome-driven teams define the outcomes they want before they act. Then, they look at the projects and activities best suited to delivering these outcomes. Additionally, micromanagement does not scale. A true sign of great leadership is how well a team can run without the leader’s input. High-performing teams let the agreed-upon desired outcomes drive the actions and behaviors of the team, and empower team members to make decisions that need to be made along the way.
Trust – Consistent character and competence. I saved the most important competency correlated to high-performing teams for last. All the other competencies can be tied to trust in some way, especially communication. Trust is hard to obtain and easy to lose. When I ask my coaching clients what the number one reason is for an employee to avoid communicating a mistake they made, they always say it’s because they lack trust in how the other person will respond. High-performing teams focus on building and maintaining trust. They make trust a guiding beacon alongside their overall outcomes and goals. Trust is the number one competency among the best high performing teams, and without it, a team will never achieve the other six.
If you are interested in learning more about high-performing teams, I teach a half-day workshop on this topic. The workshop is designed for a team or department of up to 15 people within your organization. Each participant receives customized tools for building a high-performing culture: a personal emotional intelligence summary report; a summary of their core motivations; a summary of the core motivations of their peers and team; an overview of best practices among high-performing teams; a personalized high-performing team success/goals report; and tips on effective communication and trust-building. The team leader receives a Team Directory Report and a separate, individual coaching session with a ZERORISK consultant to discuss leading their team. This workshop is available as a half-day in-person workshop, or virtually as a three-hour webinar. Contact ZERORISK HR to learn more.