Characteristics of high performing teams

Team building

So what are the characteristics of high performing teams? There are some core elements that can be summarised as follows:

  • Strong team performance management that sets and continuously measures the achievements of the team against the organisation’s goals and key results.
  • Team behaviours and values that everyone "buys in to" and consistently demonstrates even in the face of adversity. Trust and mutual respect develop over time.
  • Challenging and supportive team environment that fosters these team behaviours and performance measures, helping to create and nurture a strong team identity.
  • Cohesive team identity that is clearly recognised by those inside and outside the team.

Review your Team

Whether you are leading, coaching or part of a team, review the characteristics of a high performance team below to help predict the likely success at becoming a high performing team. Then focus your mind on where you need to channel your energy and actions to enhance your team performance:

  • Clear purpose and focus on long term achievement
    The whole team’s energy and drive is focused on achieving their purpose I.E. how their contribution fits into the overall "big picture" – for example what the organisation is aiming to achieve in the longer term. There is also a clear understanding of how the team will achieve this goal in the short, medium and long term.
  • Clearly aligned team roles
    Each team member has clearly defined responsibilities for team issues as well as their own functional role or specialism, and these team roles are assigned based on their strengths and preferred behaviours for working within a team.
  • Shared leadership and accountability
    In a high performing team, team members complete some tasks that a traditional leader holds, for example, chairing the monthly team meeting. For help see tips on chairing meetings. Team members also accept far more responsibility for resolving issues on behalf of the team when there is a sense of shared leadership and accountability.
  • Clear open lines of communication
    Communication within high performing teams centres on methods and frequency that work best for them. Inter and intra-departmental communication is managed well where vital information, proposal of new ideas and feedback are channelled across the organisation.
  • Team behaviours focused on results
    Team members should communicate and make decisions effectively, objectively review their performance and support one another to achieve their goals. Specific behavioural attributes can be viewed on team behaviours for high performance.

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  • Utilisation and respect of team members’ talents
    Enable team members to play to their strengths and trade tasks that they are less suited to, reinforcing high levels of motivation and performance.
  • Implicit trust between team members
    Implicit trust cannot be broken by an outsider. With deep rooted trust intact, team members are more likely to take things on board themselves without being asked, as there is a strong affinity and bond to the team itself.
  • Conflict is effectively managed
    One of the main differences between a mediocre performing team and a high performing team is their capability to handle conflict in a constructive way to enhance the team’s performance. The conflict is always depersonalised and focused on organisational/performance issues with a "joint problem-solving" approach taken. Over time, “conflict” becomes seen as “differing views” focused on ways of improving, learning and challenging the “status quo”.
  • Regular evaluation of the team’s output and effectiveness
    High performance teams schedule and spend time frequently reviewing their team objectives to ensure they are on track to achieve their goals within the original time frame set. By doing this they are also able to effectively manage any difficulties that arise and plan additional resource to achieve the goal.

    In this type of environment, team members are very clear on their responsibility to deliver results whilst feeling supported by other team members when challenges and issues arise. Time is also set aside to review the effectiveness of each goal or project to ensure sufficient learning is acquired and applied for future goals and projects.

    Looking for more help? Try our high performance teams training.

  • Shared recognition of team’s success
    The whole team are recognised for their achievements as a team, although it is helpful to reinforce how each team member contributed towards this overall achievement.
  • Quickly adapts to change
    When change takes place that potentially affects high performance teams, the team have already anticipated the change or discussed "the writing on the wall" and have a plan in place to respond constructively to the change as it happens.
  • Representation of the team
    Regardless of the setting, team members from a high performing team will unquestionably stand up to represent the team at different occasions and events, feeling quite at ease to speak on behalf of the team. This is usually fostered by not only the strong team spirit that exists but also the transparent, ongoing communication that equips the team members to objectively represent the team.
  • Acquire focused support
    High performance teams usually raise other’s expectations levels due to their record of success. However, where the team or specific team members require support and assistance to achieve their goals, they do not hesitate to ask and acquire specialist support. They recognise the added value that outsider support can bring to the team at a particular time and usually have a wide network of potential support.

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  • Clear, cohesive team identity
    Within high performance teams, where focused team performance management is operated, team behaviours and values that has been "bought into" by every team member, all supported by a nurturing team environment, success is inevitable.

    The team identity is so strong that it is recognised and admired by both those inside and outside the team. This identity binds the team together and constantly reinforces the team energy and motivation. As a team member from a high performance team leaves, the team “mourns” their loss and great effort is needed to synchronise a new team member into their place.

    These effective team characteristics take time to establish and really embed, so a new team will need some help in their journey in becoming a high performing team. The speed of the team’s journey is often determined by the initial effort put into getting the team processes and resources into place.

Next steps …

So what are your options from here?

As a leader or coach of a team:

  • Read our key steps to building high performance teams to help you identify your next steps.
  • Ask yourself:
    • How successful are the team in achieving their key result areas/key performance indicators?
    • Where and how could the team enhance their performance further?
    • What can be done to raise individual and team potential?
    • How established are the team behaviours that support a team climate of mutual trust and respect?
    • How are the team perceived from the outside? What does this tell us? What do we need to capitalise on or do differently?
  • Get some feedback:
    • Ask the team how they view their performance level and effectiveness as a team, what the opportunities are for enhancing this and what potential barriers exist
    • Gain a range of external perceptions on your team’s performance from your key stakeholders

As a team member:

  • Read our team behaviours for high performance to help you review your own team contributions and consider ways of helping the team enhance their collective performance level.

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  • Ask yourself:
    • What have I specifically done to help the team achieve our goals?
    • How have my contributions helped or hindered the overall team performance?
    • What, in hindsight, could I have done differently to enhance our team performance?
    • What tools or resources do I need to make this happen in the future?
  • Get some feedback:
    • Ask other team members for feedback on how you have contributed to the overall team efforts to achieve your goals e.g. what have I done well that has really helped the team performance, and what could I do differently in the future?

      Alternatively, use Stop, Start and Continue as a framework i.e. What could I stop doing to increase the team’s performance? What could I start doing to increase the overall team’s performance and What should I continue to do to increase the team’s performance?

    • If your team is part of an overall group, you may wish to extend the number of colleagues you ask to give you feedback, remembering to explain the purpose behind the feedback and the value you attach to receiving objective, constructive feedback.

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