High performing teams are an invaluable asset to any business, no matter how big or small.
If we look at the great companies of our time, sure — they may have a great product. But what ultimately makes the company thrive is the performance of its team. After all, a leader is only as good as the people they lead.
There are countless articles, books, and studies on building high performing teams. And while there is no surefire recipe for success, there are certain practices that will help you foster a culture of excellence within your firm.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about building high performing teams — including their characteristics, ways to build them, and also take a look at some industry leaders and how they optimise the quality of their teams.
Characteristics of High Performing Teams
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the characteristics of high performing teams. However, there are some key traits that are essential for any team that wants to be successful:
A Shared Sense of Purpose
Every team member should be aware of and buy into the team’s goals. This gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for the team’s success or failure.
If every team member knows of the end goal, they can work together to create a strategy that will help the team succeed.
Having a purpose is at the heart of doing great work.
Imagine you are working without one,, not knowing why you are doing the work you’re doing. Would you be motivated? Would you feel enough responsibility to succeed? Would you really try your best?
Open and Honest Communication
In order for team members to trust each other, there must be a foundation of open and honest communication.
This means that team members should feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and feedback with one another without fear of judgement.
Furthermore, it’s important that team members listen to one another with the intention of understanding, rather than responding. Too many of us wait for our turn to speak, rather than taking the time to truly absorb what is being said to us.
Effective communication also requires that team members be respectful of one another’s time and energy — no one likes to feel like they’re being talked over or ignored.
A Focus on Results
High performing teams are results-oriented. The team is focused on achieving its goals, and isn’t afraid to hold each other accountable.
Each team member should know their role in achieving the team’s goals, and feel like they are contributing to the success of the team.
Results-oriented teams also celebrate their successes and learn from their failures. Celebrating success is crucial to a team’s overall success and motivation. Even a small thank you and a team dinner out will get the job done.
A Commitment to Continuous Improvement
Excellent teams are always looking for ways to improve. This means that they are constantly asking themselves how they can work smarter, not just harder.
Adaptation is a crucial part of succeeding in business. High performing teams are willing to experiment and take risks in order to find new and better ways of doing things. The macro environment changes in a split second, so it is vital that teams assess the situation, change their approach and execute accordingly.
Teams that commit to continuous improvement are also open to feedback — both positive and negative. Lastly, they create an environment where it is safe to fail, as long as lessons are learned from the experience.
A Willingness to Have Difficult Conversations
In order for a team to be high performing, its members need to be able to have difficult conversations with one another.
Being able to give and receive feedback, even when it’s tough to hear, is a very important characteristic. It also requires that team members be willing to have honest conversations about areas where they may need improvement.
Having these difficult conversations requires a certain level of vulnerability — team members need to be comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with one another, even if it means being exposed to criticism.
5 Ways to Build a High Performing Team
There’s no question that high performing teams can take your business to the next level. But how do you go about building one? Here are five key ways in order to do so:
1. Invest in Team Building Activities and Events
This is crucial for two reasons; first, because it helps team members bond with each other and feel like they’re part of a larger community.
Second, it breaks up the monotony of day-to-day work and helps keep everyone motivated. Team building activities don’t have be anything too fancy. Keep it simple and cost-effective with a quick lunch, or a few hours in the office after work for some fun and games.
2. Encourage Open Communication
This is vital for any team, but especially important for high performing ones. When everyone feels comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas, it allows for better collaboration and ultimately leads to better results.
Create an environment where people feel safe to take risks, share their thoughts, and give honest feedback.
3. Set Clear Goals and Expectations
This will help everyone stay focused and on track. When team members know what’s expected of them, they can be more efficient in their work and better contribute to the overall goal.
Be sure to provide regular updates on progress and celebrate successes along the way.
4. Promote a Culture of Learning
A high performing team is always looking to improve and grow. Encourage your team members to take on new challenges, learn new skills, and push themselves out of their comfort zones.
This will not only make them better at their jobs, but also help them feel more fulfilled in their work.
It also helps the company out as by learning, team members may come up with solutions to problems within the firm. It is a win-win situation for everyone.
5. Reward and Recognize Achievements
This is a great way to show your team that you appreciate their hard work and dedication.
A simple “thank you” goes a long way, but you can also get creative with rewards like gift cards, extra vacation days, or even public recognition at company-wide meetings.
How Do Market Leaders Build a High Performance Team?
When it comes to building high performing teams, there are few universal solutions. However, we can take a look at how some of the most successful organisations in the world go about it — and use this as inspiration to build our own high performing team.
The Tech Industry
We often hear about Google’s “20% time” policy, which allows employees to spend 20% of their time working on a project of their choice. This policy has led to some of Google’s most innovative products, like Gmail and Adsense.
The theory behind this is that by giving employees the freedom to work on something they’re passionate about, they’ll be more engaged and motivated in their day-to-day work. And when employees are more engaged, they’re more likely to perform at a higher level.
Other companies like Amazon and Netflix also have a culture of freedom and responsibility, which gives employees the autonomy to make decisions without needing approval from their managers.
This type of environment encourages creativity and risk-taking, which are essential for innovation and make a high performing team.
For companies that aren’t in the tech industry such as banks, retailers or manufacturers, it can be difficult to implement these types of policies.
However, there are still ways to build a high performing team in a more traditional organisation.
Take a look at JP Morgan. They decided to set up an “innovation lab” in London, which gave their employees the freedom to work on new ideas and projects.
This not only led to some great products, but it also allowed JP Morgan to retain their best talent as employees felt they had a place to grow within the company.
Long-term employees build close relationships with each other and learn to work more cohesively, leading to them being significantly more high performing as a team.
Other companies give vast rewards to employees to motivate them, such as bonuses or share options. This can work well if done correctly, but it’s important to make sure the rewards are aligned with the company’s goals.
For example, if a sales team is given a bonus for every new client they bring in, they may be more likely to take on risky clients that aren’t a good fit for the company, in order to receive the bonus.
The Bottom Line
Building a high performing team is by no means an easy feat, but it’s definitely worth the investment.
By understanding the characteristics of high performing teams, following the tips above and taking inspiration from the great companies of our time — you’ll be well on your way to assembling a group of top-notch performers who will help take your business to new heights.