Countless studies trumpet the merits of high performance teams. Before a leader dives into building high performance teams, however, it is crucial that he or she understands thoroughly both the “why” and the “how” behind high performance teams.
Significance of High Performance Teams
Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University, is widely considered a leading academic expert on the formation and ultimate effectiveness of teams. In his book, Leading Teams, he opens with a pop-quiz:
If people work together to build a house, will the job probably
(A) get done faster?
(B) take longer to finish?
(C) not get done?
The correct answer, of course, is “A.” But the context of this question is what makes it interesting – it is actually from a fourth-grade standardized test in Ohio.
The point of the exercise is to illustrate how the concept of teams has permeated through every level of society. Even children are taught that teams are inherently more effective than individuals at achieving goals. This narrative continues throughout high school and college – where assignments and deliverables are frequently structured around teams rather than individual students – and extends right into most jobs. A team-based model has become the norm in companies around the world. In the U.S., the team-based model has been present since about 1953 (far earlier if you consider Ford’s assembly line), and there are a multitude of studies around best practices for high performance teams. For example, a simple Google search for “high performing teams” yields 29.2 million results, while “building better teams” yields 24.8 million. Clearly, therefore, the topic of high performance teams is one of great interest to business leaders.
Studies show that accelerated value creation – whether in terms of revenue, ROI, or whatever ultimate metric a business is chasing – is directly proportional to the development of high performance teams. Our data has corroborated this principle:
Employee characteristics, leadership, culture, and organizational dynamics are key to an organization’s overall performance.
All of these characteristics go hand in hand with high performance teams.
5 Steps to Start Building High Performance Teams
Certainly having high performance teams gives an organization a competitive advantage, but building high performance teams is not always easy. Often the most difficult part of developing a high performance team, in fact, can be knowing where to start. Negative team habits, such as following unnecessary processes that retard progress instead of acting as a catalyst, can be deep-rooted, proving difficult to change. There are certain steps an organization can take, however, that will aid progress toward creating high performance teams. Below we’ve included a list of five things that you can do right now to start building your high performance team.
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- Get top-down buy-in:
Most organizations are structured top-down, and for any idea to truly gain traction, the initial buy-in needs to come from the top and filter down (there’s a caveat around that, though:the things coming from the top can’t change every week, or else an organization enters into a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation). If a truly high performing, high functioning, deliverable-centric team is your goal, that goal needs to have buy-in from the C-Suite and senior level before it can resonate.
- Reconsider your training modules:
Ensuring that employees are continually learning and improving is an essential part of building high performance teams, so it is important to consider whether employees are sufficiently trained. What types of training are you offering? What types have employees requested? How are you measuring the success of the current trainings? Do you have knowledge within the organization that could be used to train others? Who should “own” training – HR or someone else, or a mix of HR and someone else? What would an ideal training environment look like for your organization?
- Look at managerial skills:
In addition to training team members, is important to ensure that your managers are trained and ready to lead high performance teams. Start brainstorming and identifying the traits and skills that you want in a manager. Consider previous exit interviews – what frustrated employees about managers – and talk to a mix of managers, independent contractors, and non-managers. Consider what skills managers need right now, but also consider what skills they might need in 2-3 years. Start to sketch out managerial trainings around these core skills.
- Define culture:
Objectives ultimately flow from culture, and how quickly objectives can be achieved often correlates with culture, as well. If you’ve never tried to define your culture / mission statement / values, make sure you do that – and include details around communication, collaboration, and shared missions. A healthy and defined culture will empower the development of high performance teams.
- Assess communication models:
A team can have six individually excellent members, but if they don’t know how to communicate their ideas and accomplishments to each other, the team itself will not be high performing. How do people like to receive information in your organization, and what does research about communication and information processing during a workday tell you? How should teams share information? These are important processes to consider when building high performance teams.
Although there is no one formula for developing high performance teams, following the above steps can help you create an environment that is conducive to high performing teams. Whenever you do begin to develop a high performance team, however, remember this:people are unique. When they join teams, they bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table, and they come with competing priorities from other roles they have held. They take vacations, and holidays occur. In short, a team might take a little while to develop into a good team, and it might take months to a year for it to become a high performance team. You may need to assess and refine aspects of your organization, but you need to do so within contextual reason – great teams, just like great cities or great leaders, are not developed overnight. It takes time and effort.