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6 Hallmarks of High Performing Teams

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There is nothing quite like the sensation and satisfaction of being on a high performing team. I’ve had this luck and pleasure a number of times in my career, but it’s rarer than I’d like. High performing teams seem to generate their own energy and elevate everyone on the team to their full potential. 

Despite achieving more, working on these teams is less taxing — the workday feels shorter and less frustrating.

So what sets high performing teams apart and why aren’t all teams so successful and fun?

High performing teams aren’t just a collection of strong individual performers, although that certainly helps. They don’t leave great performance to luck or personality, they design for success.

Here are 6 tangible and actionable attributes of high performing teams:

1. Defined Goals

Defined goals and a clear plan to achieve them are essential to great performance.  Abstract annual goals aren’t enough — teams need shorter-range, compelling and clear goals that unify and galvanize them on shared purpose. Sequencing these to an annual result works well, but it’s key the team wants to achieve the goals.

2. Committed Actions
Successful teams write down the committed actions each person owns on the path to goal achievement (and they waste less time determining who owns what). Members feel a sense of personal ownership and have a shared intention to accomplish the results they’ve committed to the team week over week. Making progress on actions aligned with a goal people believe in energizes people and elevates their performance, according to author and Harvard professor Teresa Amabile.

3. True Transparency
Facts and status enable members of the team to work more effectively together, pivot or adjust course quickly on unforeseen events, and execute with greater efficiency and predictability. Embracing transparency is one of the most distinct features of high performing teams (and a stark contrast to the politicized and professional “ball hiders” that frequent lesser performing teams). Moreover, the activity required to achieve transparency improves the odds of goal achievement: people with written goals and actions alone have a 43% goal achievement rate while adding status reports against goals boosts the likelihood of achievement to 76%. 

4. Unabashed Accountability
The team leader and members hold themselves and each other accountable for their commitments and goal achievement week to week. When the team or a person comes up short, it’s not swept under the rug — it’s triaged and addressed quickly to get back on track to goal. There is a uniform expectation of each other, that when combined with a uniformly high level of commitment to goal, are the essence of a high performing team’s greatness.

5. Frequent Feedback
Members of the team get and ask for regular feedback on their work. Learning members get positive feedback that enables them to learn and engage quickly, while expert members get constructive feedback that helps them continuously advance already-mature skills. Because team members are focused on achievement and respect each other’s commitments and efforts, feedback is easier to give and apply. For a great primer on giving feedback, check out this article by Dan Rockwell’s at Leadership Freak.

6. Celebrated Successes
Savor the small and the big wins as a team. Celebrate people’s individual contributions and the accomplishments of the team as a whole. In large matrixed organizations where teams coalesce and disband quickly, it takes extra effort to celebrate success but it is actually more rewarding than a cash bonus, according to McKinsey.

It’s not just the business results…
People who’ve worked on high performing teams tend to remember the experience and their team mates vividly for years to come. When they describe the experience, they use words like “epic” and there is tangible pride and gratitude in their voice. That team imprint is far greater and longer lasting than its contribution to the company at which its members worked.

What are your experiences and memories from a high performing team? What made it fun and successful? What’s your sense of connection to those team mates?

My next post will cover the 5 Dysfunctions of Low Performing Teams (including freeloaders and fear) plus tips to avoid them.

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