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What Does a High Performing Team Look Like?

 What Does a High Performing Team Look Like?

You are on a boat that starts taking on water. How do you and the people around you respond? Do you all come together to agree on a plan to get back to shore or do some put their own interests ahead of the group? Can you trust one other to do what needs to done? What happens when the tide shifts and you have to adjust your plan?

Suddenly a high performing team makes all the difference and it’s the same in the workplace – to achieve optimum results, you need to have high performing teams: ones that work with purpose toward a shared vision and that leverage member’s unique skills to achieve superior results.

In high performing teams people trust one another, they agree on a common mission, everyone understands their role and responsibilities, they collaborate, they are flexible and they are committed to growing and developing. Lets look at these characteristics in more detail.

Trust is First and Foremost
Employees on high performing teams work from a foundation of trust and respect. In fact, trust is what underpins everything they do and it is a necessary condition for all of the other characteristics of high performing teams.

Here is how trust helps create the foundation for these teams:

  • People bring their best self forward knowing differences are valued
  • People take risks and express their opinion
  • Challenges are worked through respectfully
  • Communication is transparent

Goals are Clear and Aligned
High performing teams are focused. They have a shared vision and every person understands what they need to do to accomplish the goal.
Every member of the team is focused on the objective and they have a deep connection to the mission.

To achieve this:

  • Team members know how their goals fit into the larger picture
  • There are no competing priorities
  • They understand success means working together
  • They celebrate wins together
  • Recognition systems balance individual and team recognition

Roles and Responsibilities are Well Defined
To perform at the highest, teams need to be crystal clear on who does what and when. This is often accomplished through the organization’s values and sometimes a team charter that contains guiding principles and expectations. It also depends on putting the right people together including leaders.

Considerations include:

  • Guiding values and principles are developed and applied consistently
  • Members understand the norms for communicating
  • Decision making rules are agreed upon
  • Conflict is managed using the norms and principles established
  • Roles are filled by diverse people
  • Roles are assigned purposefully, making sure they are congruent

Collaboration is Essential
In high performing teams everyone brings their best to the table and this necessitates high participation and engagement. Leaders are accessible, communication is open, honest and transparent and innovation flourishes.

To encourage a collaborative culture:

  • Leaders are engaged and they encourage feedback
  • Leadership is often shared through a self-management approach
  • Micromanagement doesn't exist – the team shares responsibility
  • Questions are asked regularly and problem solving is shared
  • Team building that leads to camaraderie is part of the team’s culture

Flexibility Rules
Members of high performing teams understand the need to be agile and adaptable. Because their focus is on the purpose or the mission, they are able to shift their attention as needed. So rather than being laser focused on a particular task they’ve been assigned, they always have an eye on changing priorities.

Members of high performing teams regularly:

  • Assess and reassess priorities and shift gears as needed
  • Willingly help their teammates anytime, all the time
  • Ask ‘why’ am I doing this and resist falling into a routine
  • Take risks and ask “what if” to encourage growth
  • Encourage each other when change causes stress or discomfort

The Culture Encourages Learning
High performing teams know that learning and growing are essential to achieving their goals. They have an innate desire to learn and acquire new skills and knowledge and this cycle of perpetual growth keeps them striving to be better and to achieve more.

Learning is encouraged through:

  • Strong investment in employee development
  • Linking learning with reward and recognition
  • Regular feedback from a variety of sources
  • Ensuring mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn
  • Regular reviews and debriefs to discuss opportunities for improvement

Unless it’s sink or swim, high performing teams don’t just happen by putting a group of people together and asking them to accomplish something.
High performance requires a thoughtful process to establish the necessary conditions for success – this means bringing the right people together for a common purpose, helping them establish effective norms for operating, and supporting their growth and development all while building and maintaining a foundation of trust.

Great Place to Work® is the world leader in building high-trust, high performance workplaces. Whether you are just getting started on your journey or you’re already well on your way, we can help you build more trusting relationships at work and achieve better business results.


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Nancy Fonseca
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