In an effective organization, employees work toward a common goal. Achieving value alignment across the organization and individual teams is the most sustainable road to success.
What is high performance as a group?
A “high-performance” group is a team of goal-oriented people with specific expertise and complementary skills who innovate, cooperate, and produce consistently superior results. They aim for excellent performance relentlessly through shared leadership and goals, collaboration, clear role expectations, open communication, group operation rules, a strong sense of trust and accountability among members, and the capacity for early conflict resolution.
Benefits of a high-performance team
Organizations that invest time and money in training their leaders and growing high-performing teams enjoy generous returns. High-performing teams and companies become high-performing organizations with an increasingly productive workforce.
Benefits for employees
The employees or members of a high-performance team are engaged and focused, working towards a shared goal based on aligned values, with skill sets that complement one another. Their leadership encourages open communication and rewards good performance. Their stakes in the results are equal, and they are very motivated. Value sharing and a feeling of trust lead to higher productivity and efficiency.
Benefits for organizations
Regardless of whether the organization is an NPO, a sports team, a business, or anything else, a high-performing team can yield some or all of the following benefits:
- Motivated employees
- Increased engagement
- Knowledge and independence
- Greater flexibility
- Better client service
Organizations that deal with specialized projects need high-performance teams to ensure efficiency and perform results-driven activities. A high-performing team will support organizational process change through shared skills and multilateral communication capabilities.
Enablers of high performance
There is shared understanding of how performance effectiveness is measured for groups although no two groups or teams are exactly alike. High-performance work teams are usually characterized by a combination of goals and purpose, skills, talent, incentives, performance ethics, motivation, conflict, efficacy, communication, leadership, norms, empowerment, power, and standards.
The following section will go into the most common enablers of high performance.
Purpose, roles, goals
High-performing groups work to accomplish a common, short- and long-term goal. Usually, they are fully committed to these goals and to each other. Teammates work better with clear roles. They know what they are responsible for and grasp the essence and meaning of their tasks. Each team member supports and understands the value and meaning of the group’s mission and vision. Team potential increases when the goal is clarified and linked to each member’s role and responsibilities.
Motivation, incentive, efficacy
Financial, as well as non-financial incentives, can and do encourage higher performance. They impact the tactical implementation of the team’s goals positively. While extrinsic and intrinsic motivators are equally effective in the short term, the second type emerges as more effective over longer periods of time. An example of an intrinsic motivator is personal satisfaction at work.
People are encouraged to take increasing strategic risks to accomplish their aims if they believe in themselves and their abilities.
Work ethic, skill, talent
A high-performing team leader or leaders find and keep the best talent and reassign low-performing members to other areas. Typically, morale is directly proportional to performance. After recruiting the right talent, the leadership makes sure the team members have complementary skills – interpersonal, decision-making, problem-solving, etc.
Teammates must demonstrate a sustained commitment to high performance and mutual respect and take accountability on a personal and a group level.
A high-performing team without a high-performing leader is a rare thing. The following leadership qualities count as essential, among others:
- Establishing a relevant and meaningful purpose, goals, and approach
- Making sure team members are always improving their skills
- Building commitment and confidence
- Managing relationships from the outside
- Getting actual work done
- Removing obstacles that can be detrimental to group performance
- Offering new opportunities
Experts agree that influential team leaders focus on relationships, purpose, goals, and firm commitment to results that benefit each team member and the whole organization.
Powerful and empowered work teams increase ownership, boost interest in the project, provide an opportunity to develop new skills, and facilitate decision-making. In the ideal case, the leader sets concrete decision-making boundaries without taking away the group’s ability to make empowered choices.
Communication and conflict
A team doesn’t perform well without learning to manage conflict effectively and in a manner acceptable to all members. In the team, open communication means focusing on coaching rather than directing and the ability to address issues calmly and openly. The key to high performance is open communication to sustain interest, provide motivation, and promote cooperation at all times.
Standards and norms
Like standards for group behavior, norms can help improve team performance and development. Values and norms for high-performance teams include timely conflict resolution, mutual respect, regular evaluation of group and individual performance, a supportive and cohesive team environment, shared recognition of team successes, a strong work ethic, and a focus on results.
High-performing teams discuss operating rules and values in detail. These include standards each team member agrees to meet and values they hold each other accountable to observe.
Safety, respect, trust
A positive environment is always conducive to better work. Fostering positive interaction and maintaining good relationships between team members are key factors of high performance. It’s also paramount to define relationships by the levels of mutual trust and respect.
Emotional safety was identified as the most critical team effectiveness factor in a Google study called Project Aristotle.
This means all people feel safe making comments, ask questions, or suggest new ideas without being afraid of others seeing them as ignorant or incompetent.
Shared or democratic leadership is a great enabler of decision-making on an individual level. When leadership is shared, all team members get a chance to lead, depending on the tasks.
This contributes to improved confidence, empowerment, and a sense of self-worth that increases the level of job satisfaction.
When building a high-performance team, diversity is highly valued. It’s important to recognize individual differences between the people on the team. Different fields of experience, backgrounds, and opinions within the team can translate into better solutions, greater innovation, and improved decision-making.
When one chooses employees with complementary skills, there is little risk of leaving an uncovered weakness. Overall, the team is broader and more flexible, and better able to rise to challenges.
Early conflict resolution
A high-performance team resolves conflicts in their infancy, before they become problems, and does so openly and transparently. This helps sustain a positive work environment. The team doesn’t waste time with useless or disadvantageous talks. Sharing early conflict resolution as a valuable form of behavior is a typical feature of a high-performance team. Effective teams foster progressive interactions and do not hold grudges.
Teams that practice constant learning can solve problems more easily as they are always improving their skills and adapting to new situations.
Placing value on feedback makes it easier for people to find novel ways to improve their performance, so the team is as effective as possible.
Values enable high-performing teams
Values provide a common framework for decision-making. They guide behavior, and individuals can work independently, knowing that their actions are guided by shared values, like communication. Lack of good communication can lead team members to refrain from voicing their opinions and thoughts in a group setting. They don’t feel safe doing so, which is ultimately counter-productive.
At the same time, an effective leader creates a working environment that encourages risk-taking. This kind of team culture will encourage innovation, motivate employees, and help generate and implement new ideas.
Leaders also need to grasp and assess individual working styles to increase the effectiveness of a high-performance team. Among the most effective teambuilding indicators are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Belbin High Performing Teams, the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, and more. They can help leaders understand the way individuals in their teams think and behave.
Common obstacles for teams
The following section looks at typical signs that an otherwise well-performing team needs intervention or isn’t functioning as well as it could be:
Bad decisions. The team makes decisions too fast without using intuitive or rational approaches.
Non-engaged leadership. Leadership is not shared or democratic. It is absent or authoritarian, which is detrimental to team motivation.
Poor communication – closed lines or rare communication.
Lack of mutual trust. Some team members do not trust the team as a whole or distrust other members.
The team is unable to manage conflict. Team morale is ruined if grudges are allowed to build up, or when conflict is not dealt with openly and transparently.
Hostile work environment. A non-transparent, negative culture that is not focused on results will eventually see team performance suffer.
Poorly defined responsibilities and roles. Team members are unsure of their tasks and thus cannot express commitment and support team success.
Relationship issues. Weak bonds between the team members impact their effectiveness and efficiency.
Lack of clear goals. Team members are not sure what the ultimate goals of the team are, leading to a lack of commitment and engagement.
Examples of high values-based performance
Some examples of high-performing teams that share values are the Apollo 11 team, Wikipedia, and the conservation group Sea Shephard.
The Apollo 11 team made history in their mission to take mankind to the moon. United by their goal to put a man on the moon, they made an incredible effort, including years of research and hard work.
Wikipedia’s team is comprised of volunteer editors, writers, and translators, who work to make sure the free encyclopedia is updated and provides valuable and reliable information. There are currently almost 6.5 million articles in English. The team shares the value of free access to information and works tirelessly toward this goal.
Finally, Sea Shephard is an example of a tiny group doing brave things because of values. They are dedicated to their mission to protect and conserve marine wildlife and oceans. They work to protect all marine wildlife: whales, sharks, dolphins, rays, fish, etc.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Board of Directors serves without monetary compensation or other material incentives.