High-Performance Teams: 7 core characteristics

  • DeakinCo.
  • 2 July 2021

Before Michael Jordan, there was a basketball player named Bill Russel. Bill Russel’s on-court statistics were impressive enough to have him hailed as one of the greatest players of all time but they did not surpass the likes of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Yet in his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, the team won 11 NBA Championships – the highest number held by any player to date. Fans attributed the success to his talent, but Bill put it down to his philosophy of team play. “The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I’d made my teammates play.”

Imagine if this were the philosophy of every member of your team. Imagine if your star players also focused on elevating their teammates’ performance. Can you imagine the difference this would make to your company’s culture, employee experience and overall workplace performance? 

Below we explore the core characteristics of high-performance teams and what leaders must focus on to cultivate an environment that enables teams to excel.

A Shared Vision and Business Alignment

Does your team share a deep sense of purpose? Do they understand and are they committed to the organisation’s ‘why’ as well as their own? A shared vision lays the foundation for high-performance. High-performing individuals are driven by the desire to accomplish something. That desire is strengthened through a genuine sense of purpose and connection. Ensuring that each team member is connected to and working towards the same vision will mean their energy is being funneled in the same direction as one unit. 

Ask your team members to share their definition of what success looks like and what they believe the team priorities are for achieving this. A team that shares an aligned vision will articulate succinct and similar answers. If they do not, this is an opportunity for management to take action.

Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Do each of your team members have clarity around the business direction and destination as well as their role in getting there? Team cohesion relies on each team member knowing what they are responsible for and how their role fits into the bigger picture. While this may seem obvious, it is important to note because without clarity and agreement over ownership, progress will stagnate and accountability will waver. When team members understand how their role specifically contributes to the organisational vision, they are more engaged, productive and inspired to innovate.

Ensure that each team member has full clarity around their role and each of their teammates’. One way of facilitating this is to create a shared document outlining roles and responsibilities, accessible to all on the team.

Environment of Accountability

Members of high-performance teams demonstrate follow-through, proactive problem solving and ownership. They share a strong sense of accountability not just for their individual part but for the success of the entire project. This means they’ll pick up the slack if they notice a teammate falling behind, and they’ll do so graciously. In an environment of accountability, each person takes ownership for their own role and at the same time operates for the greater good of the team. This builds trust and camaraderie and enables business results to be met with more efficiency and effectiveness.

Focus on developing frameworks that align these values with actions. Leaders can consider adding a KPI around team members’ contribution to elevating the team.

Communication and collaboration

Do your team members know what tools and tech to use for different communication needs? Is there a culture of open and honest communication?

With traditional company boundaries rapidly shifting, freelancers becoming more commonplace and remote work being here to stay, developing air-tight communication processes and skills has never been more critical. High-performance teams exhibit a culture of open, frequent and timely communication, a respect for diversity, a willingness to embrace conflict and an ability to adapt. To optimise communication within the team, particularly within a remote environment, leaders must focus on: Investing in the right tools and technology, establishing very clear communication processes, onboarding the team to effectively use the tools and processes and coaching team members in communication skills.

Trust

Do your team members feel safe to fail or do they operate in fear of being reprimanded for mistakes? Is there a stronger sense of camaraderie or competition within the team?

Trust is the glue of a high-performing team. If the glue unsticks, the team begins to fall apart. At google, they call it psychological safety – “the belief that you won’t be punished for making a mistake” - Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google. This sort of mindset creates the space for individuals to fail fast and learn fast, as well as to take risks and innovate – which is essential for high-performance. Team success is also built on everyone involved having a strong sense of being in it together, in addition to trusting each other to deliver on the technical and operational requirements of their roles. A culture of trust is driven from the top. Leaders must strive to operate with transparency, respect and integrity, and promote collaboration over competition.

Adaptable mindsets

Agile organisations require agile individuals. High performance teams are made up of individuals who approach challenges as opportunities, pivot quickly and bounce back from setbacks more easily. They also have a higher tolerance for change and uncertainty which future-proofs the organisation and enables the team to continue delivering excellent results even in the face of uncertainty. Given the volatile and unpredictable nature of the current climate, leaders must focus on training and supporting team members in managing change effectively.

Continuous learning

High performance teams are relentlessly committed to growth. They are able to consistently elevate their performance because they are continually expanding their awareness, knowledge, and capabilities. A culture of continuous learning fosters inspiration and innovation. Consider how you can support your team members in integrating more learning and growth opportunities into their workflow.

Celebration

The power and importance of deliberate celebration should not be understated. High-performance teams move quickly, and celebration helps to keep team spirit and morale high. A lack of intentional acknowledgement of wins can have a negative psychological effect on our dopamine-driven brains, which in turn can affect performance. Celebration is also a form of reflection and enables teams to identify what went well and what they should do more of. Additionally, high performance teams also celebrate “fast-fails” and pivots, as this is a core part of continual improvement. Consider ways in which you could build celebration into the workflow.