Assembling a High-Performance Team

Mar 4, 2010
7 Min Read

A team doesn’t just happen. An effective team is designed, built, and managed. Carefully designed teams have a sense of unity and identification… team spirit, if you will. The best time to ensure a project's success is before you even get started. Especially if you are the leader. Consider these seven guidelines before you even think about communicating the project to your team.

Set a clear goal

Giving a vague assignment is a sure way to failure. The objective for the project needs to be clear. How does your team know if it has achieved what it set out to do? There should be no question about what success looks like.

Unify the team

Even with a clear goal, there will be confusion. As your project gets underway, each team member will get their own vision of how that objective is manifested. Plan on getting agreement on the vision up front. With a common vision, your team will set aside their own agendas and ideologies for the sake of achieving this collective goal. Then later, when the team comes to a fork in the road in making a decision, they will be able to easily and unanimously agree to take the route that will lead to the best outcome.

"After all, your team is not just a collection of individuals. It is an entity of its own."

Have a mission

The goal of your project needs to be clear. It also needs to be motivating, so team members want to accomplish it (other than because the CEO said so). When a goal isn’t something the team members identify with, personal agendas or power issues will surface, making success difficult.

Pick the right team members

Picking your team is not only about finding colleagues with the right mix of technical skills. “A common mistake in forming teams is to assume that people who have all the technical skills necessary to solve a problem also have the interpersonal skills necessary to work together effectively,” writes J. Richard Hackman in Teams That Work (and Those That Don’t). People working on the project must not only be able to get the job done, they must also be able to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate.

Provide support and resources

Another common mistake is to give a team challenging objectives, but then provide little to no organizational support. If the money isn’t there, if the technology doesn’t work, or if the supplies are missing, the best people with the strongest commitment and the clearest goals will accomplish… not much. Anticipate what your team will need in order to perform at their best. Having systems in place to support work groups will make the project flow smoother and decision making faster.

Encourage collaboration

Team spirit is not a permanent state – it is built up or it is slowly destroyed based on daily actions. Foster team spirit by creating a collaborative culture. Collaboration comes from, first and foremost, trust. As the leader, you need to be trustworthy, but the team members must also trust each other. Hear are three ways you can make sure that it happens:

  • Honesty – As a leader, have the courage to be honest. Encourage team members to be honest with each other.
  • Openness – Be open about the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Utilize team members so that their talents are maximized.
  • Respect – There is no need for everyone to agree, but there is a need for everyone to be listened to. Encourage teams to disagree, without acting in a disagreeable manner.  Without a respectful climate, team members will be afraid to voice ideas they are afraid might get shot down.

“Effective team leaders ensure a collaborative climate by making communication safe, by demanding and rewarding collaborative behavior, by guiding the team’s problem-solving efforts, and by managing one’s own control needs.“ Frank LaFasto & Carl Larson When Teams Work Best.

Set standards of excellence

Just as you set a clear goal, also be prepared to set clear performance standards. Performance standards help define the process that gets your team to the goal. For example, if the goal is 100% customer satisfaction for the month of March, what are the behaviors that will allow that to happen? Define those metrics and then expect all the team members to perform at that standard. As a team leader you can do three things to set standards of excellence:

  1. Set clear expectations and desired results.
  2. Review results and provide feedback.
  3. Reward superior performance.

Creating a high-performing team isn't something that just happens overnight. What have you found that makes your teams out-perform?

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