4 Behaviors of High Performance Teams

high performance teams graphicArguments for socialization of high-performance teams (HPTs) into organizational practice can be drawn from any number of evidence-based research studies. To start, consider this data:

Impact of Team Dynamics on Business

Business Metric

Positive or Extremely Positive Impact

Productivity 72%
Morale 70%
Engagement 68%
Corporate Brand 67%
Revenue 64%
Competitive Advantage 63%
Retention 61%
Company Valuation 54%
Market Share 52%

Source: 2014 Brandon Hall Group Team Development and Performance Survey (n= 191)

Yet a staggering 66% of organizations disclose that they have no processes – or very ineffective ones – for team development. Another 82% reveal they have no strategy – or an immature one — to enhance team performance. This data sharpens our focus on the rewards and challenges of building and sustaining high performance teams.

This is much more than a group of employees coming together to brainstorm or take action on some project. Several models of team development exist, beginning with Tuckman’s “forming, storming, norming, performing” model that dates back 50 years, to more recent renditions. While countless models are available, no easy formula exists for the creation and endurance of high performance teams. But the news is not all gloom and doom. Our research points to a set of at least 4 critical behaviors with which to start.

4 Behaviors of High Performance Teams

Establish Shared Leadership

In HPTs, leadership is more than a role; it is an influence process that requires leadership from team members, as well as from the team leader. It is called shared leadership. The concept of shared leadership, therefore, runs counter to how team leaders operate in traditional (non-HPTs) teams. The foundational difference between shared leadership and traditional team leadership is that the influence process rests upon all team members sharing power and ideas up, down, and laterally rather than centralizing the power with a single person who acts in a clear role of a dominant superior. While few teams, or organizations, achieve shared leadership, our early evidence suggests that shared leadership can yield significantly greater organizational productivity and business results than does a traditional model of team leadership.

Build Trust

Trust is confidence, the absence of suspicion, and an ongoing record that confirms expectations of behavior and performance. Trust is expressed in the behavior toward others and will grow or shrink due to interactions and experiences. In general, trust building is a slow process, between individuals and even more so among teams. But high performance teams accelerate it with communication among team members that is honest, open, consistent, forthright, and respectful. Further, in HPTs, team members express feelings in a climate of cooperation yet appreciation for inevitable differences of opinion. Homogenous teams, in fact, yield a lower level of productivity. Overall, a relationship exists between trust and team performance: trust is a crucial factor for exceeding team goals.

Define Norms and Expectations

HPTs are all about holding team members accountable for performance. To do so involves setting standards of performance, agreeing upon actions, ensuring commitments are executed, and results are met or exceeded. High performance teams typically document a “norms and expectations” charter that looks similar to this:

high performance teams charter sample

Resolve Conflicts

Conflict arises from the clash of perceptions, values or goals when the team is passionate about achieving the common goal.  Some common sources of team conflict are:

  • Inconsistent values of team members
  • Poor or negative attitudes of team members
  • Misunderstood goals and expectations among team members
  • Limited resources
  • Unclear performance expectations
  • Lack of communication

Conflict can be functional or dysfunctional. Functional conflict is healthy debate and an airing of opinion differences. It maximizes a team’s performance and outcomes are better for it. When functional conflict upholds team performance and gets in the way of goal achievement, then it is dysfunctional. Managing that balance is essential. HPTs follow rigorous norms and an expectations guideline to ensure only functional conflict prevails. An HPT is effective at identifying and resolving conflicts in a timely and mutually beneficial fashion.

How well has your organization developed high performance teams? What is working well about them? What not so well? What is a critical next step in jumpstarting their performance? In sustaining their performance?

Until next time…

Laci Loew, VP and Principal Analyst,
Talent Management, Brandon Hall Group

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