As we come out of the Covid epidemic and as we reach equilibrium on the work-from-home/work-from-office continuum, leaders should be turning their attention to building and rebuilding a high-performance ethic in their work teams.

In the context of this conversation, a high-performance work team is a group of goal-focused individuals with specialised expertise and complementary skills who work collaboratively to produce dependably superior results. These teams are characterised by a common acceptance of shared goals, they communicate well, and they understand each other’s roles and contributions. Further, they can manage conflict amongst themselves, and they trust each other implicitly.

Reflect on this for a moment. How many teams have you worked with that display these characteristics? What are the differences between some of the teams you have worked with in the past, and a high-performance team? What was the role of the leader? What did the team members do to make it work?

The need for teams that excel

While you are pondering over your past experience with high-performance work teams, let’s explore why we need them.

Everything we do gets done through teams. Executive teams run corporations. Marketing and sales teams provide products and services to customers. Project teams create new products and services. The CEO of the massive multinational corporation is unable to deliver without the myriads of teams around her.

Teams are essential for organisations to carry out their work. It’s how they achieve exceptional performance, This, in turn, secures competitive advantage. And that’s important. Not all organisations can have unique technology and access to scarce resources of a sympathetic and generous shareholder. But every organisation can build really good teams.

There are key motivations explaining why teams work. Really great teams can do the following:

  • A group of individuals in a team synergises and harmonises skills and experience that exceed the arithmetic sum of the skills of a single individual.
  • Teams support real-time problem-solving and are more flexible and responsive to changing demands. Many perspectives are brought to bear.
  • Teams provide a unique social dimension that enhances the economic and administrative aspects of work. We are all social beings, and a team allows us to express this.
  • High-performance teams generally have more fun at work than do low-achieving teams or individuals by themselves.

Characteristics of high-performance work teams

There is no simple way to measure the performance of groups. No team is identical. But we all know an effective team when we see it in action.

In every high-performance work team, you will find the following:

  • There is a clear, shared understanding of the purpose and goals of the team
  • Every team member is competent in the skills required for the role they play.
  • There is a commitment to excellent performance, to put in that little bit extra every time.
  • Team members are held to high standards of personal ethics.
  • There are incentives and rewards for performance. While these may be financial, they are often social or developmental in nature.
  • There is evident leadership, not just from the leader, but from the team members too.
  • The team has worked out how to use conflict constructively.
  • Constant formal and informal communication takes place between team members.
  • Organisational and personal power is used in an empowering way.
  • Quality is contently addressed and improved in the team
  • The high-performance team take time to do team maintenance. This relates to personal relationships, adjusting the team structure to changing situations, and constant skills upgrading.

How to build a high-performance team

Here are some insights on building a high-performance team:

Stability

A strong team is built on human relationships. Human relationships take time to form and consolidate.  Hand-pick your team, and once the team is formed, take care to maintain its stability. Look for complementary skills and a team-supportive attitude.  Avoid taking people on or off the team at short notice. Give the team time to gel.

Support team dynamics

Work on the team values. Recognise and celebrate behaviours that represent team values in action. Bring attention to behaviours that don’t support the team ethic in a firm but respectful way. As the team leader, you should make regular time to clarify team cooperation and support team members in conforming to the way of doing things.

Encourage open communication

Help team members voice their opinions and thoughts in meetings. This promotes psychological safety in the team.  You want a  working environment that fosters interpersonal risk-taking. This team culture will motivate employees, encourage innovation, and help take new ideas to implementation levels.

Keep on learning

A culture of continuous learning is essential to building a high-performance team. It addresses constantly emerging skill gaps and new performance requirements. This is doubly relevant in any technology-related field.  Encourage formal and informal learning. Use “sitting next to Nellie” when appropriate. It might be old-fashioned, but it still has its uses. Have informal brown bag lunches where team members share their experiences and techniques. Online learning in groups is a powerful way to expand the team skill set.

Set goals

Team members do better work when their roles are clear: They should know how to do their jobs and why they are doing them. Each member must understand and support the meaning and value of the team’s mission and vision. Clarifying the purpose and tying it to each person’s role and responsibilities enhances team potential, as does the inclusion of “stretch” goals that increase the challenge necessary to motivate team members. Setting measurable and effective goals with clear intent is critical to building a high-performance team. With a set common goal to achieve, high-performing team members find themselves motivated, energized, and more creative. Rewards and recognition for effective performance also keep the mood of such teams upbeat and efficient.

Building a high-performance team is within the grasp of every leader. It helps when you have the support of your organisation behind you. Start today with conversations about team performance, build a stable team, support healthy team dynamics built on open and honest communication, and keep on learning. Do all of this with an emphasis on setting, understanding and achieving goals, and you will be on your way to developing your own high-performance work team.

Here are some additional resources to consult:

‘What,’ ‘Who’ and ‘Why’ of Collaboration

www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employeedevelopment/pages/clarify-the-who-why-and-what-of-collaboration.aspx).

High-Performance Work Teams and Organizations

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Francesca-Flood-Edd/publication/326232364_High-Performance_Work_Teams_and_Organizations/links/5b3f90d9aca27207851ff680/High-Performance-Work-Teams-and-Organizations.pdf

Effects of high-performance work systems on transformational leadership and team performance: Investigating the moderating roles of organizational orientations

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hrm.21886

High-performance work systems, organisational culture, and firm effectiveness

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1748-8583.2004.tb00112.x

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