Why are some teams effective and successful while other teams are dysfunctional and unproductive? A high-performing team is typically composed of knowledgeable team players whose skills and expertise complement each other. Above and beyond the skillsets of individual team members, however, a team that works well together also employs specific approaches, practices, and attitudes.
Although no two teams are the same, high-performing teams typically share certain characteristics. This is good news since it means that if your team is currently underperforming, tried-and-tested mechanisms exist that you can put in place to improve your team’s morale and productivity. To help you get started, I have compiled this list of 7 characteristics of high-performing teams.
1. Clearly Defined Mission and Goals
In order for team members to remain motivated and confident, they need to have a strong sense of purpose. One of the main distinguishing factors of high-performing teams is that they operate under a clear mission narrative. Not only are team members highly focused on their team’s objectives, but they also have an emotional connection with these objectives.
This means that a team’s goals and objectives should make sense to the team members. High-performing teams view the successful realization of their objectives as important to the overall success of a company. When teams clearly understand how their goals are aligned with the priorities and goals of a company at large, they realize that they are vital to the overall success of an operation and, therefore, valued.
It is the task of a team leader to clearly communicate expectations to team members and to implement effective communication strategies to ensure that they both understand and agree to these. Apart from informing a team of their mission, a team leader should also put workable strategies and interim goals in place to ensure that team members are able to achieve their long-term goals.
2. Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Although team members should share and support a common vision, they also need to know what their individual roles and responsibilities are. Highly successful teams function effectively since they have a clear understanding of the expectations they hold of one another.
When responsibilities are clearly delineated, team members can be held accountable for the work they deliver. Conversely, when responsibilities are not clearly delineated, it is easy to pass the buck and blame another for work not delivered. Also, when roles are not clearly defined, it is really difficult for a team to be productive. Tasks may be duplicated or completely omitted, which leads to frustration and poor morale.
Lastly, providing individual team members with unique responsibilities endows them with agency and a sense of purpose. Since their performance can be measured against specific key performance indicators, they can take pride in their work and can also put personal career development goals in place, which will motivate them to perform at their best.
3. A Democratic Style of Leadership
High-performing teams always have an effective team leader. The leadership style of effective leaders often tends to veer towards a more democratic approach. This type of leadership philosophy typically has the aim of serving as opposed to barking orders at subservient team members. Although an important focus of effective leaders is goal achievement, they also tend to want to uplift and learn from the individual members in their teams.
Typically, the voices of all team members are valued in high-performing teams. While a team leader will still be in charge of planning main strategies, team members are involved in everyday decision-making relating to the execution of strategies and projects. This means that leadership is decentralized. When specific expertise is required, the team member who is most qualified typically steps in and takes the lead.
When it comes to resolving complicated issues in high-performing teams, team members are usually actively involved in brainstorming and implementing solutions. They are empowered employees whose input is valued and needed.
In short, a good leader is essential if you’re hoping to form a high-performing team. An effective leader defines goals and objectives, plans effective strategies, and coordinates the various initiatives of a team. However, they also encourage active participation from team members when it comes to important decisions and problem resolution.
4. Effective Communication
Effective communication is one of the key characteristics of a successful team. It involves multiple aspects, such as honesty, transparency, and the effective dissemination of vital information among team members, which can be helped along by putting the necessary reporting structures and operations procedures in place.
A good team leader encourages a culture of open and honest communication in their team. Team members should feel free to provide constructive feedback on the performance of fellow team members, and should also be open to receiving it. They should also hone the habit of freely sharing information and ideas, and ensuring that everyone in the team is on the same page regarding current strategies, plans, and projects.
When it comes to conflict resolution, effective communication is the way forward. Strong and dynamic teams don’t shy away from conflict. Often, opposing ideas and different opinions can drive a team forward. However, conflict needs to be dealt with correctly. This involves actively listening to and respecting the views of others, as well as a willingness to compromise.
5. Continuous Learning and Adaptability
A characteristic that all successful teams share is a willingness to keep developing and learning. Firstly, staying abreast of new developments in one’s industry is vital for long-term success. Developments and changes aren’t only limited to technical knowledge. The way that companies interact with clients, market their products, and organize themselves, for instance, is constantly changing. Also, in-demand skills are forever changing due to fast-developing technologies.
This means that apart from a willingness to keep learning, high-performing teams are also open to change, or, at times, even actively search to upset the status quo. Successful teams tend to push themselves and aim to operate outside of their comfort zones. They are innovative thinkers who take calculated risks and aren’t afraid of failing. For them, failure is more acceptable than complacency or stagnation. Plus, failure is a great way to learn.
Team members can remain focused and motivated by also investing time and effort in their own professional development. If they have a clear plan about how they want to grow as professionals, team members are likely to work hard and act professionally. A team leader can support the professional development of their team through classroom training, conferences, workshops, coaching and mentoring, and constructive feedback.
6. A Focus on Strong Relationships
Across the board, strong teams prioritize and constantly work on their relationships. The success of a team, after all, is dependent on how well team members work together. If you take the time to investigate various high-performing teams, I guarantee that 9 times out of 10, you’ll find a culture of respect, honesty, integrity, and transparency.
Strong relationships are founded on these principles. High-functioning teams realize that they can only succeed if they trust and respect one another. Team members also provide each other with the necessary support, whether this is emotional or of a more practical nature. When a team member cannot fulfill their duties for whatever reason, the other members of an effective team will step in and take over.
It can be helpful if a team is provided with a well-defined set of guiding principles that describes the expectations and norms regarding how to behave and communicate. A team leader should, of course, also lead by example.
Although effective teams are built upon authentic and empathetic relationships, team members don’t need to become best friends and socialize outside of the workplace. Although becoming friends is sometimes inevitable when you’re working closely together, it is not a prerequisite for success. Mutual respect and trust, however, is.
6. Measuring Outcomes and Success
Successful teams stop at regular and predetermined intervals to check on their progress. Doing so serves two purposes. Firstly, it provides a team with the opportunity to acknowledge work well done and to celebrate its achievements and successes. Secondly, evaluating work completed allows a team to adjust future strategies and plans and improve its performance going forward.
High-performing teams are adept at setting achievable goals and benchmarks and defining the measures with which to evaluate their performance and productivity. When goals are achieved, successful teams focus on the broader impact they’re having on a company’s overall profitability and growth.
With effective teams, team members who may be struggling are typically supported and provided with the necessary guidance and information to succeed. As such, evaluation of performance is not regarded as a way to berate or humiliate, but rather as a mechanism to use to tweak or change strategies, approaches, and operations.