7 Characteristics Of A High Performing Team

When I first started working with teams, I heard the phrase High Performing Team (HPT) used frequently.

I understood that a this type of team produced consistent quality results and its members cared about each other.

I wondered, though, what it was that made this team different from the rest of the pack? If I knew what it looked like and how it operated, then I would know what to shoot for in my own leadership.

My colleagues and I devised a simple interactive activity to find the answers. We have used this activity at all levels in all kinds of organizations, with intact teams and newly formed teams composed of strangers. Remarkably, the results are always the same.

Here is how it works:

  • Ask individuals to think of their best team experience- where they were very proud of the results and very proud to be a member. It could be any kind of team - sports, work, project, or community.
  • Have participants write down 5 or 6 elements that made that team so special.
  • Then in small groups, compare their lists and determine the 6–8 characteristics or elements that were consistent in everyone’s list.
  • Have table teams report out. The themes will become evident.

This activity is simple and the results are powerful. For 30 years, despite changes in technology, economics, and generational considerations, the characteristics are always the same no matter the form the team takes.

Knowing the characteristics of a highly effective team gives you as a leader a goal to shoot for as you work with teams and the ability to identify gaps where the team may need work. Knowing your goal is so important. To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat: “if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there.”

We put the characteristics of a High Performance Team into an acronym so it is easy to remember. The acronym is called PERFORM.

  1. P = Purpose and Values - A high performing team shares a strong sense of purpose and a set of common values. They are clear about what their work is and why it is important. The purpose is what focuses energy and drives interdependence and performance. It is from purpose that mutually agreed upon goals are derived, roles defined and strategies developed. If purpose and values are not clear, the team will falter.
  2. E = Empowerment - Policies, rules and procedures enable the team to do their work easily. The team has access to relevant information and resources. They have the skills necessary to succeed or at least know how to get them. The team’s decision-making practices, scope of authority, and accountability strategies are clear. They have the autonomy, opportunity and ability to experience their personal and collective power.
  3. R = Relationships & Communication - This is the lifeblood of the team. Team members feel like they can take risks, share their thoughts, opinions and feelings without fear. Listening is considered as important as speaking. Differences are truly valued and if differences lead to conflict, the team is skilled in dealing with it in a way that maintains human dignity. Trust and mutual respect are high. They care and depend on each other.
  4. F = Flexibility - The team has the ability to adapt to constantly changing conditions and demands. Roles are shared and team members back one another up. Everyone shares in team development and leadership. Strengths are identified and used. The team engages in both hard work and fun. Feelings as well as opinions are valued.
  5. O = Optimal Productivity - A HPT is committed to producing significant results. There is a commitment to high standards and quality. They take great pride in meeting deadlines, achieving goals and getting the job done. They hold each other accountable. There is striving for continual improvement. They have effective decision and problem solving methods to enhance creativity and participation. Everyone carries their weight and they hold each other accountable. They take great pride in team accomplishment.
  6. R = Recognition & Appreciation - Recognition and appreciation is the responsibility of all team members and the leader. The organization recognizes and values the team contribution. Individual and team accomplishments are recognized. Milestones are celebrated. Team members feel highly regarded in the team.
  7. M = Morale - Morale is the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from belonging to the team and accomplishing its work. Team members are confident and enthusiastic There is a sense of optimism about the future. Team spirit is high.

In essence, a team is high performing when there is a clear purpose and values, mutual accountability for results, interdependence and a deep care and commitment for the task and each other.

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