What Truly is a “High-Performing Team?”
The term ‘high-performing’ is, on the surface, easy to understand. A team is high-performing when they achieve all the goals/KPIs that have been set for that team. However, is it really that simple? What if the team achieves all its goals, but the team members are miserable? What if the team achieves all its goals, in spite of the leader? In order to be truly high-performing, we need to consider not only what the team achieves, but also how it achieves it.
In a session with an oil and gas company, one colleague stated that the organization only focuses on what the team does. He said (paraphrased), “all they care about is that we get the proposal together and submitted on time. If we kill a couple people along the way in order to do that, they don’t care” While team cultures that only focus on what are likely successful, they will end up with sustainability problems. After a period of time, team members become burnt-out, disengaged, and distrustful that the organization cares about their well-being at all, so why should they care about the success of the team?
Teams are not an abstract entity, they are made up of people who bring with them all their experiences, knowledge and ways of working that may differ. It is the role of the leader to create an environment that encourages team members to collaborate effectively to drive to the common goal. The definition for high-performing teams that we use is:
A small group of highly effective and cohesive individuals with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goal, and work approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
Achieving a High-Performing Team
In order to achieve this state, a leader must be tune into the fact that:
1) Teams go through the four stages of development. Through simple team building exercises, you can quickly see how teams form, storm, norm and then perform. The role of the leader is to learn how to support the teams through each of those stages. Also, leaders need to be able to recognize when teams have back-tracked off the performing stage, perhaps back to storming or norming.
2) The competencies that each individual needs to demonstrate also impacts the team’s ability to perform at the team level. So the team needs to be able to evaluate which competencies of a high-performing team they demonstrate well and which ones they need to work on as team. Performance management systems rate the individual, but rarely have mechanisms to measure at the team level. The role of the leader is to facilitate a discussion of competencies at the team level and to collectively determine how the team will operationally demonstrate those competencies,
3) Trust plays a critical role in a high-performing team. While some may consider it to be a ‘soft’ word, it is potentially the lynchpin to success. Trust is not abstract, it has five concrete components. Trust is created when everyone demonstrates reliability/consistency, capability, openness, confidentiality and compassion.