Getting people to work together and be in sync is a serious challenge. As a business consultant, executive coach, and practitioner I can confirm with you first hand — how difficult it is to create a High-Performance Team (HPT). In this article, I wish to share what I believe are the five key attributes high-performance teams have in common. I am not saying that having these attributes will guarantee a great team as there are many other factors to consider such as leadership, management, and certain policies.
The ability to create an environment where team members “all play nicely together” stems from two things, one being “top-down management” role modeling and second, solid leadership skills from the team leader. Over the years I have found that when working with companies who experience problems within the company, they often think that it must be something wrong operationally such as costing, logistics, tech, etc., but seldom do look under the personnel “hood” of the company. As a management consultant, I look at the problem and the desired goals of management and first investigate with people and then follow with data (numbers, etc.). I believe that business is not very complicated, but it is people who make business very complicated and if management would pay more attention to the human individual and group needs, the workplace has the potential to be a happier environment and a more productive one at that.
Successful Team Attributes
Lack of trust amongst team members causes much dysfunction, especially where there are individuals who lack confidence in one or some members of the team. It is important to create a team framework where all members truly believe that the team construct is an open and safe place where everyone feels safe to open up without paying a price for being candid. There are various methods to accomplish this and for the sake of brevity I will not go into details, but at the end of the day, trust is the root of everything. Trust that if the team leader and/or management states that it is a safe place — then it must be true to its word. Moreover, if members open up, they should not pay a negative price for doing so. I know it is probably a term that is overused but creating a “Family” like environment where everyone has each other’s back, versus always focused on covering your own back is a major contributor and also a competitive advantage. Companies, where members remove their personal ego and desire to play to win for themselves versus for the sake of the team and its intended goals and objectives, are extremely effective and productive — again, it is all on trust. One exercise is all about getting members of the team to learn about each other in how they think, learn, absorb information, and better understand each individual personal psychology such as, but not limited to letting team members know about certain maladies such as ADD or ADHD, ASD, Anxiety, have problems hearing, or may have processing information limitations to name but a few.
Having an off-site retreat for team building may not be the answer on its own. Not to say that off-site events are not effective, they can be effective, but they aren’t a quick fix solution to an existing teams’ problem. Off-site events can be an effective tool more so when building a team from the starting point.
2- Confrontation & Communication
Conflict avoidance is something many individuals share and is completely logical as the average person understandably would prefer to avoid a confrontation — especially if it means that the individual would have to put themselves “Out there”, rendering the person to be in a vulnerable position.
A good working environment includes a well thought out corporate culture. It is easy to find employees with skills and experience compared to finding people who share the same values, beliefs or corporate culture, so before a person becomes an employee — be sure to hire individuals who have as much in common as possible with the corporate culture. By doing this you may potentially reduce the number of confrontations and improve communication effectiveness.
In this case, it is imperative that the corporate culture creates a reward and/or recognition program so that employees are encouraged to open up and speak out and with one another for the sake of reaching team as well as corporate goals and objectives.
Teams where individuals who aren’t comfortable communicating amongst each other may perceive communication as a form of “Confrontation”, because after openly making a suggestion or comment they may feel that they will have to “Defend or support” their ideas or position, a behavior that they may have learned in the past that still remains in their minds. Of course, a person should explain how and why they came up with an idea or suggestion, but it is likely the manner in which the person is expected to support their idea is likely to be an issue of concern. Again, a warm and supportive environment where everything a person says is valued and contemplated, not an environment where individuals are sarcastic or shoot something down without respectfully giving a person a chance to be comfortable to speak about their idea. The idea is not to protect one’s ideas or suggestions but to present the information to the team for open discussions where everyone can flesh out the merits of the information may add value to a project.
Some signs that you may have this problem may include having boring meetings with little creative input, people are pointing fingers at each other where internal (soap opera-like) politics are taking place, people always Cc’ing everyone without much reason to cover their asses, or when individuals all stop talking when certain people enter the room.
On the other end, teams that experience good dynamics tend to experience less political play, are capable of addressing most topics without concern, generate a higher level of creativity leading them to completion faster, and tend to solve problems much quicker. Interesting to note, these teams are capable of having really heated discussions that are actually enjoyable and productive meetings without offending anyone on the team.
3- Individual Buy-In & Commitment
From my experience, performance teams create real lasting friendships in and outside the workplace and often even after a member leaves the team or company. When teams work well you will typically find that all members have a clear understanding of a situation and they are all (100%) in, in that they are sold on the idea and buy-into the initiative, concept or what have you. But we also want individuals to also be committed as well, personally committed where they take a personal level of pride and by their own choice “Want” to be in as well — this is a powerful combination that you aim for if you are seeking to have a high-performance team. This means that they are committing to the project, and they are all in. Teams that experience members not committing 100% may experience an increase in fear of failure as they may lack confidence in each other to complete a project or task at a level they believe to be of a higher quality. They also tend to experience difficulties when deciding upon task prioritization, analysis paralysis by unnecessary wasted time by over discussing and second-guessing things — almost like “Groundhog Day”.
Committed teams are pretty much the opposite of the above as they are very comfortable with the idea of failure or errors (not that they aren’t careful) and when this happens, they see it as a learning moment. Another key point is that the team is totally focused on the goals and objectives of the team and the company as they have a very clear understanding of what is important. In this case, the team benefits from a very high level of individual commitment, much less hesitation in decision making, and is also more capable of adjusting with a change that creates a very “Agile” work style.
4- Lack of Accountability
“Mia culpa” is a Latin phrase that translates into an individual who owns his/her actions and openly states and takes accountability for their wrongdoing. The sad fact in the business world is that a large portion of individuals tends not to implement Mia culpa, and instead tend to “defend and deflect” ownership and accountability — something many of us learn from childhood, practice as adults, and then used in the workplace. This behavior is especially caustic in a team environment as it causes frustration, anger, and resentment against those who act in this manner — not taking responsibility for one’s actions or being accountable. It also leads to poor performing teams.
One effective strategy to help prevent this problem is to create a well-defined job description that includes a variety of KPI’s but also a set of team KPI’s. Within this, each member of the team has their own defined role, contributions/deliverables, expectations, and timelines for each task in a given project. This provides that everyone on the team is fully aware from the start of who, what, where, when, how, why, and so forth. Moreover, when in a meeting, individuals who are assigning tasks must be clear on all deliverables and expectations and the recipient must confirm comprehension of this, which then places accountability and responsibility on the said individual team member. There should also exist an upfront understanding of what the repercussions are when an individual fails to meet expectations and deliverables.
Another method of prevention is to create mini teams within the team. Generally, teams of two or three individuals depending on the size of the overall team, number of project deliverables, and timeline. By creating mini teams there will be an individual who will take the lead on a task and at least one person acting as its “Co-pilot”. This is especially effective in preventing unmet timelines as well as higher quality deliverables because having a partner helps with the follow-through — “Two heads are better than one”. After a project has been completed, mini team members rate each other in the mini team as to how they performed as a learning and development tool — but also as an accountability and “HR” tool. The same evaluation is also performed amongst the entire team after a project has been completed for the same purpose.
5- Consideration of Others
We never want team members to forget that they are also responsible to their team members, where everyone is a link in the chain — if one is broken the entire link may not be functional. In a team, its members are only as good as each team member and therefore requires everyone to commit to working at the highest standard possible. Do note that a single individual has the capacity to bring the entire team performance down. In essence, each member is actually also accountable to members on the team in addition to the team leader and management.
By considering others, each member should practice being mindful of their actions and inactions and be accountable to oneself as well as the team. Meaning that the quality of an individual’s work should be of a high standard. By not being mindful and just getting the work done without taking pride, care, attention to detail, and consideration of the team — will result in delivering a lower quality of work and thus bring down the team on the whole.
The quality of work or contribution team members provide is not the sole focus either, it is also about having each other’s backs. If a person is incapacitated and unable to fulfill their role in a given task or project, you do not shove the person aside. If the person is willing and capable to participate in some form other than usual, give the person the ability to participate in any way they can. If the person cannot contribute at all, cover for them without being asked - for one day this may happen to any member of the team. Members of the team need to treat each other as they would wish to be treated themselves, which in of itself speaks volumes of behaving with a high level of integrity.
It goes without saying that organizational skills are an essential ingredient for a team to become an HPT as without chaos will ensure and goals are unlikely to be achieved.
Aside from individual organizational responsibility of their own workload, management, and the team leader must set in place a system to monitor the weekly or even daily progress to ensure that everything is running to plan. This also provides the place for individuals to discuss any performance issues of another member of the team as well as any issues an individual may be having regarding their own deliverables. Having (brief) regular meetings may prevent deadlines from being broken and help to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
HPT Razor sharp attention is given to prioritizing and focusing on as agreed to by the team, where goals are based on outcomes and results versus the quantity of work. Effective team planning utilizing input from all, incorporating technology to aid in communications and planning, and a clear strategy describing how they intend to achieve all the deliverables to reach their goals and objectives. This includes individual contributions all along the way so there are no miscommunications. This provides the team with crystal clear direction and what to aim for collectively.
Something some groups seriously overlook. It is a very common habit for people to select people more on similarity, compatibility, and loyalty versus complimentary skills or even a contrary viewpoint — which actually provides for a different perspective and helps reduce certain biases. Diversity is needed not only so that all the skills and experience needed are accounted for, playing a particular role on the basis of their strengths and skills. A variety of personalities, age groups, and cultures can also add value by bringing creativity and a broad range of ideas and perspectives to the team and project(s) as well.
9- The Fun Factor
It may seem obvious or corny, but it is important for members of the team to actually enjoy their work, their work environment and actually have fun. There is an old saying that if a person really loves what they are doing they will never feel like they are working. Working this into the team culture, if not present in the corporate culture is really important but regardless — having your own team fun culture is also really “fun”. Plus, all work and no play can also lead to burnout and a demotivated team — we do not want that!
Aside from the typical ideas such as romp rooms, video game interactions, rec room pauses, outings and off-site events, there are other creative things that can be acted upon in almost any work environment such as, but not limited to:
Weekly traditions such as Pizza (or food and/or beverage in general) Fridays.
Daily challenges such as the team races around the block and the first to win receive some sort of reward or recognition.
A really cool idea is to enable members of the team with a team logo and branding palette and each member can decorate their office space with colors reflecting this.
A simple one is also creating a consensual framework for encouraging harmless gags. I still think that the once in a while fart bag on a seat can get a really good laugh out of people…
Encourage members of the team to communicate with each other for reasons that are not related to business. Develop a caring and friendly environment where real friendships can develop. When you look at the data, friendships at the workplace account for a reasonable percentage of why some employees stay in a company — just something to think about.
Be generous with handing our compliments or recognizing peoples contributions, sacrifice, hard work, accomplishments, creativity, and so forth.
Humor, never to be overlooked. A good laughing environment (baring productivity issues) creates great moral and camaraderie. It also has physical benefits such as it boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes your muscles, and helps prevent heart disease. It also has mental health benefits such as it adds joy and zest to life, eases anxiety and tension, relieves stress, improves mood, and strengthens resilience. Moreover, the social benefits of laughter also include the ability to strengthen relationships, attract others to us, enhance teamwork, help defuse conflict, and promotes group bonding — these points are especially beneficial for teams, so try to incorporate humor and laughter into your team culture.
Effective communication between team members is at the heart of all high-performance teams. When teams seek to truly understand each other's concerns, feelings, concerns, needs and challenges, respect and trust grow and flourish. But it is also important to note that without respect and consideration for the values and perspectives of others, trust cannot be created. Having good communication in an organization, as part of the business culture and part of the team values is the glue that binds people and the entire organization together. At the end of the day, a team is as good as the person next to them. This is great for the lazy, the discontented, the selfish — but bad for those who really care about the team, take pride in themselves and the team. Selecting the right individuals is really the first step in the hiring process, which is why you must start with a solid corporate culture, followed by management who lead by example. Having strong leaders who will motivate and manage teams is the next piece to the puzzle.
Regardless of teams or individuals in a company, having a corporate culture that encourages and rewards people to openly speak out to share their constructive criticism or ideas can often be associated with companies who are industry leaders.
I hope my insights provide existing companies and startups alike with the knowledge that they can use and implement quickly to see measurable results.
I’m Avy and I provide strategic business consulting, executive coaching and provide advisory and board of directors services for companies around the globe and in varying industries. I work with startups and founders, with public company CEOs, and I help companies and executives reach their personal and professional goals with respect and pride as we overcome hurdles together. Over the last 10 years, I’ve co-founded three companies, am presently a co-founder and COO/CSO of a tech company, invested in some early-stage startups as an Angel investor, acted as a consultant and advisor for a US-based VC firm, and mentored hundreds of individuals and startups.
I thank you for taking the time to read my article and would very much welcome your comments, your own experiences and so forth. We are all in this world of entrepreneurship and startups — it is like a family of sorts so meeting new people is always a welcomed pleasure.
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