Building and managing a high-performing team takes time and effort. High-performance teams combine individual strengths and skills, and a laser-focused attitude, to outstrip their competitors. Managing high-performance teams takes trusting the team and allowing appropriate levels of autonomy to motivate every member to do their best work. It takes nurturing an innovative culture, clear role-definition and equipping the team members with effective conflict resolution tools to maintain cohesion within the team. Despite the time and effort it takes, the benefits to be derived, including sustained levels of productivity and greater profitability, are well worth it.

The definition of a high-performance team

Structurally, high-performance teams are designed to maximise performance and focus on the process of delivering results.
This is how Wikipedia defines a high-performance team:

“…a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents and skills, aligned with and committed to a common purpose,
who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation, produce superior results, and extinguish radical or extreme opinions
that could be damaging. The high-performance team is regarded as tight knit, focused on their goal, and have supportive processes
that will enable any team member to surmount any barriers in achieving the team’s goals.”

Wikipedia lists key characteristics of a high-performance team as:

  • Team members are highly skilled and able to interchange their roles.
  • Leadership within the team is not vested in a single individual. Instead, the leadership role is taken up by various team members, according to the need at that moment in time.
  • High-performance teams have robust methods of resolving conflict efficiently, so that conflict does not become a roadblock to achieving the team’s goals.
  • There is a sense of clear focus and intense energy within a high-performance team.
  • Collectively, the team has its own consciousness, indicating shared norms and values within the team.
  • The team feels a keen sense of accountability for achieving their goals.
  • Team members display high levels of mutual trust towards each other.


High-performance team leaders

High-performance teams are usually headed by effective, high-performing leaders. It is widely understood that such team leaders focus on purpose, goals, relationships and a firm commitment to results that benefit the organisation, as well as each member of their team. Their essential leadership qualities include the ability to:

  • keep the purpose and goals front and centre, and the approach relevant and meaningful,
  • build relationships, confidence and commitment within the team,
  • ensure that individual team members continually develop their skills,
  • manage unconstructive team relationships, within and outside of the team, with a focus on eliminating any obstacles that could hinder group performance,
  • provide opportunities for others without seeking credit for themselves, and
  • join the team at the coalface to get their hands dirty in doing the real work required.

Here are eleven steps for the managers of high-performance teams to take when building and supporting a high-performance team:

  1. Define roles and responsibilities clearly from the get-go. As the team leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone on your team knows exactly what is expected of them.
  2. Set clear goals and objectives. one of your most essential responsibilities is setting clear goals and objectives. This will give your team something to work towards and will help keep them focused and motivated.
  3. Communicate regularly. Make sure you regularly communicate with your team members, so they are always aware of what is happening.
  4. Provide feedback. Providing feedback to your team members is essential. This will help them learn and grow and help you identify any areas that need improvement.
  5. Encourage team building. It is important to encourage team building. Team-building exercises can help team members get to know each other better and build trust and cooperation.
  6. Reward success. Publicly recognising your team members for their successes will help them feel appreciated and motivated to continue performing at a high level.
  7. Get to know your team on an individual level. Take an interest in their lives and show that you care about them as people, not just as employees.
  8. Be flexible. Things will inevitably change and can go wrong from time to time. It is essential to be able to adapt and adjust as needed.
  9. Be willing to make mistakes. What separates great leaders from the rest is their ability to learn from their mistakes and use them as opportunities to grow.
  10. Work on conflict management. It is essential to be proactive in managing conflict and address issues as they arise rather than letting them take root.
  11. Encourage creativity. Creativity can help your team members find new and innovative ways to solve problems and come up with innovative ideas and approaches.

The hallmarks of a poorly performing team

At the opposite end of the scale, here are some characteristics commonly found within a team that is the antithesis of a high-performing team – one that is not performing to its full potential and that needs intervention:

  • Dictatorial leadership – fails to employ a democratic leadership style that involves and engages team members. More focused on achieving daily tasks, dictatorial leaders are understood to not be as committed to long-term team goal setting or individual career progression as high-performance leaders.
  • Flawed decision-making – occurs when leaders or team members make decisions too quickly without bringing sufficient knowledge, experience, understanding or intuition to bear.
  • Infrequent communication – results from communication channels that are broken down or non-existent, meaning that communication is closed and infrequent.
  • Lack of mutual trust – affects teams where their members do not fully trust each other or feel they cannot rely on colleagues to get tasks done.
  • Inability to manage conflict – will negatively affect everyone in a team regardless of who is creating the conflict. Not dealing with conflict openly and transparently or allowing grudges to gain traction can destroy team morale.
  • Lack of goal clarity – leads to team members who are unsure about their roles or project goals, resulting in a lack of purpose, commitment and engagement.
  • Poorly defined roles and responsibilities – fail to properly define each team member’s assigned role and responsibility. Thus, individuals will lack the means to properly fulfil their role and so demonstrate their commitment to the team.
  • Relationship issues – take root when the bonds between the team members are weakened through lack of leadership intervention when necessary. This will, ultimately, affect the team’s efficiency and effectiveness.
  • A toxic atmosphere – becomes prevalent in a team’s culture that is not open, transparent, positive and future-focused. This results in a failure to perform at an elevated level.

When it comes to ensuring employees benefit from working within a positive work environment, high- performing teams lend themselves creation of such an environment. When team members work collaboratively towards achieving their goals, it builds trust between colleagues and engagement with their work. Team members learn to rely on each other and develop a sense of camaraderie, resulting in increased motivation and job satisfaction. In this way, high performance teams support the whole organisation in realising its vision.

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

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About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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