Building high performance teams: a formula for organisational success

The quality of a team’s performance is one of the best predictors of organisational success. Businesses that understand this and commit to building high performance teams are those most likely to thrive in challenging times.

No matter how large or small your organisation, if you want to improve performance; create and maintain competitive advantage; and achieve greater productivity, profitability and success, building high performance teams is the first step.

In successful teams, individuals need to move beyond the view that the success of “me” is the most important factor. Instead, they need to focus on the needs of the business and how to achieve this collectively.

At The Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership (IECL) we work with leaders and their teams across a wide range of industry sectors and geographies, and find that there are a number of characteristics that high performing teams have in common: These teams typically:

  1. Enjoy a clearly defined common purpose and goal
  2. Share leadership beyond position and hierarchy and work collaboratively
  3. Are goal-focused, but also prioritise team relationships and camaraderie
  4. Engage in real conversations, are active listeners and encourage robust and open discussion
  5. Share responsibility for process, relationships and group dynamics as well as follow through on actions
  6. Take collective responsibility for mistakes and difficulties
  7. Achieve targets and recognise collective, as well as individual, contributions to achievements
  8. Review projects critically, learn from mistakes and celebrate successes

 

Building a High Performance Team

At IECL, we help organisations lift the performance of their leadership teams using five foundations adapted from the work of American team management expert, Patrick Lencioni. The triangle below shows the five foundations that form the starting point for any great team.

At the base of the triangle is trust. No team can function effectively without this critical component. Many leaders start at the top of the triangle ” focusing on collective results. Whilst results are critical, without the base level of trust and the ability to engage in healthy dialogue and hold each other accountable for commitments, collective results rarely emerge. So let’s briefly examine each level of the triangle and share suggestions of how to build capability:

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Development of trust comes from building a safe environment within the team where each member can share opinions, admit weaknesses and are allowed to show vulnerability by asking for help. Leaders can model this behaviour by showing their own vulnerability and encouraging others to do the same. We often begin a team building journey with a 360 diagnostic tool to allow individuals and the team as a whole to learn about their style, their strengths, and their areas for development. The leader is encouraged to share his or her profile with the team and invite them to do the same.

From trust flows authentic dialogue, which forms Level 2 of the triangle. A high performing team needs the ability to engage in constructive disagreement, where people are encouraged to challenge respectfully and debate the opinions and ideas of the team and the leader. Research shows that diversity of thought is critical for innovation and excellence, and everyone on the team has a right to be heard respectfully without fear of ridicule or exclusion. The most effective leaders invite and encourage their direct reports to challenge their views.

Level 3 of the triangle involves the development of strong commitments. A high performing team will never leave a meeting without having absolute clarity on who will do what and by when. They will then (Level 4) be comfortable holding each other accountable for these commitments.

Attention to collective results is critical to success, but the pursuit of individual goals or members playing politics to achieve their own objectives often gets in the way of this. A strong leader will keep the team focused with the mantra: “organisation before team; team before self.”

Although these principles appear simple, their application is much harder. Helping team members to build trust and confidence in their colleagues takes time and commitment. This is where a skilled and credentialed team coach comes in to help develop and embed the new skills and behaviours and keep the team on track, accountable and safe.

Team coaching enables people to share and talk about common expectations they have of each other and to give each other feedback about strengths and challenges and how these can complement each other, rather than competing and creating tension in the group. It also helps them build confidence and trust in their colleagues, which is vital for the success of the team.

Research shows that high performance delivers greater productivity and profitability, better ROI, and improved staff retention too. It helps create a high performance workplace culture that will help attract others of a similar ilk and so create a virtuous employment cycle, where employees achieve more, stay longer and attract others like them. With so much at stake, organisations would be wise to invest in this area.

About the author: Julie Parkinson is Director and Head of Asia for the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership. Contact her at juliep@iecl.com