The Top Ten Qualities of High Performance Teams
Back on the farm, my grandfather used to say one boy can do a day’s work. Two boys can do a half day’s work. And, three boys won’t do any work at all.
Lousy teams frustrate more people than any other aspect of organizational life, other than lousy leaders.
Incompetent leaders don’t understand high-performance combinations. Incompatible talent struggles to perform. Lopsided teams deliver inconsistent results.
Skillful leaders know how to bring people together in ways that enhance performance, enjoyment, and fulfillment.
High performance teams:
- Stay small. Teams should be slightly undersized; never oversized. Teams larger than 6 are almost always too large. No drifters allowed. Ownership goes down as team size goes up.
- Know why they are working together and believe in their purpose.
- Understand each other’s strengths and compensate for each others weaknesses. Who needs time to mull things over? Who makes decisions quickly? Who organizes, works well behind the scenes, expedites, schedules, and/or loves social interaction.
- Care about each other. During team meetings, socialize to maximize. Have food once in awhile. Share what’s going on outside work.
- Establish rules of engagement. Some teams, for example, believe it’s ok to simply ignore suggestions. One person suggests an idea – there’s a moment of silence – someone makes an unrelated comment – the team ignores the first suggestion and moves forward. Successful teams work on how they work together.
- Develop timelines and deadlines.
- Strive for excellence. The acceptance of average devalues and disrespects talent. Mediocrity is never fulfilling.
- Hold each other accountable. It’s not OK to let other’s down.
- Celebrate often even as they press toward new goals.
- Disband when they become obsolete or ineffective.
Every team needs more doers than dreamers. Once purpose and goals are established, a team of doers always outperforms a team of dreamers. (More on this tomorrow.)
What are the qualities and behaviors of high-performance teams?
Does this advice apply to governments also?
Thanks for your question, denpobedy. Context controls application. None of the ideas in this post are moral absolutes.
It might be easier to ask, which of the ideas in this post DON’T apply to governmentals?
Yes…and that question answers a lot…
Dan, I’d like to know more about #8 …. accountability is used in a number of different ways. Mark
Thanks mwayland. Accountability is a topic that teams should discuss with each other. What will we do when a team member lets others down, under-performs, or drops the ball.
It’s useful to have this discussion BEFORE a performance issue arises. That way it isn’t personal.
If a team has existed for any length of time, it’s time to have a “lets work on how we work together” conversation. That’s a good place to bring up what types of accountability work within your context.
Amazing advice. Establish rules of engagement prior to the incident of someone not producing. We need dreamers to present innovation that producers may otherwise miss, but a system of equality in responsibility is essential. I have picked up the dropped balls of others so often, I feel like a golf caddy 🙂
Wow, Dan. 24K gold here. One tweak. “Once purpose and goals are established…” don’t forget values. Successful teams have shared values which, combined with purpose, articulate the team’s identity. I have an opportunity coming up (cross your fingers) where these ten qualities will be crucial. Best regards.
Thanks Steven. Good call on adding values – the behaviors we expect of each other – to the conversation. Best wishes.
I think, without 1 and 2, the rest generally won’t fall into place
Thanks Rajiv. Yup. The first rule has been of great use to me and is essential for agility, ownership, and engagement.
We might step back and say, success begins with team formation. Something not addressed here.
Absolutely. I have found that teams that are too large become diffuse, with each developing its own agenda
Excellent take on team work. According to me for any team to perform consistently, formation is important as Rajiv has mentioned. The Leader needs to chose his team carefully. Added to this the team needs to be nurtured. Not all are born or are capable of doing things exactly the way the Leader expects. That does not mean that you throw the Member out. Give each Member the space and the freedom to perform. Allow them to question and challenge. This way great teams are built. Of course laggards need to be told in non uncertain terms that they have no place.
Thanks P G. I’m glad you included team formation and development. The idea of giving space for people to perform encourages ownership. Very powerful.
For me the most important idea here was “Successful teams work on how they work together.” This is something that most teams ignore and once done well, can be the key differentiator between teams that do well to transform to teams that do excellent!
Thanks Mukesh. We get so busy doing the work that we forget to work on the way we work. My experience is people really enjoy the opportunity think about the way they work together.
Very useful article, many thanks.
Dan – Enjoyed this post! I think it’s important for people to understand that accountability requires work. In fact, it could use it’s own top 10 list…because high levels of accountability require the same level of specificity, team work, mutual concern, and trust that underscores this list.
All too often, we find that leaders simply declare, “We’re going to hold each other accountable.” That’s no more effective than, “We’re going to be a high performance team” or “Let’s hit our goals”.
* People must know precisely what accountability looks like, what behaviors, what frequency, what consequences
* People must trust and care for each other to remain accountable…trust comes from the relationship…from shared suffering and shared achievement
* People must value each other to value accountability…If I don’t care about you, I probably don’t care what you think. If you don’t need me, I probably won’t feel accountable to you
We’ve studied accountability in elite soldiers and athletes, as well as in work teams. It’s important for leaders to know that transparency in the absence of clarity and trust breeds fear (and perhaps short-term compliance), not accountability and sustainable high performance.
Thanks Travis. Powerful! That last sentence about transparency without clarity and trust is really helpful.
To compliment the info provided in your article, I would like to suggest readers familiarize (or refresh) themselves on the 1960’s ‘model/strategy for team development’ by Bruce Tuckman…Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning/Transforming.
My favorite is #8. Thank you for the post!
Thanks Kellee. Best for the journey.
Stay small is important, in Agile Software development we have the Pizza rule. If your team can’t be feed by one large pizza it is too big. Large teams as you mentioned usually become unmanageable.
Leaders must find the motivational and inspiration levers that will get the very best out of each member of the team. You can’t get the same input or result from everyone, but if you help him or her make their own best contribution to the team goal, all will be served by their utmost effort in that direction.