Creating and Leading High Performing Teams

A team is a small number of people who are committed to working together to achieve the desired goal. Working together includes talking, sharing ideas, debating issues, collaborating, making decisions, establishing goals, providing feedback, and celebrating success.

Teams, like personal relationships, go through stages. Teams don’t become great performers overnight. It takes time to develop trust, learn to collaborate, and understand each other’s thinking styles and behavior patterns.

What’s the ideal number of team members? Most research indicates it’s somewhere between 5 and 12. But of course, the nature of the problem or opportunity influences the size of the team.

All high performing teams (athletic teams, pit crews, musical groups, surgical and business teams) are focused on a shared goal and team members demonstrate intensity to achieve it.

Top teams have three things.

  1. An Effective Team Leader

Effective team leaders present a compelling case for the team’s mission and use a discussing style to get all the team members to buy into a set of specific goals, plans, and values.

They use an effective leadership style to direct, engage, and empower team members. In addition, they set a positive example and hold people accountable for results.

The best team leaders have these skills.

  1. Task Skills—They establish clear goals, priorities, assign tasks, plan and run effective meetings and monitor results. They are able to frame problems and opportunities in a very clear, simple, and compelling way.
  2. People Skills—They connect with people, encourage and motivate them, provide useful feedback, resolve conflicts, and celebrate accomplishments.
  3. Diagnostic Skills—They are able to diagnose situations and determine what’s needed to help individuals and the overall team to perform at a higher level.

Great team leaders not only work with the team but also work on the team. When working on the team, they spend time assessing and thinking about these types of questions.

  • Do all team members embrace the team’s mission, goals, and values?
  • Do all team members have the required skills and motivation?
  • What type of team building activity would help the team?
  • Do some team members need to be replaced?

Some leaders use “process checks” to solicit input from all team members to assess what team processes are working well and what can be improved.

The team leader plays a major role in the success of any team.

  1. Talented Team Members

Team members have the expertise, motivation, and resources to execute their assigned roles and responsibilities at the highest level.

Team success hinges on having the right combination of people; team chemistry is important. Having the right mix of people will produce ideas that are creative, cost-effective, and practical.

Team members are talented and committed to a set of core values that influence their goals and how they work together. The values include:

  • Excellence
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Curiosity
  • Respect
  • Trust

If you are going to perform at the highest level, you must be committed to excellence and continuous improvement. In addition, curiosity starts the learning process, which is required if you are going to continuously improve. Respect and trust create openness to fully consider ideas and feedback from your colleagues.

Research has found that on high performing teams, team members not only set high standards but also hold each other accountable for results and living the team values.

  1. Efficient Team Processes

High performing teams are very efficient at communicating and making decisions.

A. Communicating

Good communications are vital for team success. Team members openly discuss and debate problems, plans, and opportunities. Conflicts occur and are handled in a professional manner.

There is a foundation of trust and psychological safety.

Without trust, people hold back their true thoughts and feelings. That can result in groupthink. People go along with the group even though they really disagree. Not good!

Some basic operating rules related to communications include:

  • One person speaks at a time
  • Speak up. Say what’s on your mind
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Listen and fully consider all ideas

B. Making Decisions

Team members take time to discuss issues but know when it’s time to make a decision. You can’t engage in endless debate.

In some situations, the team leader makes the final decision. In other cases, group consensus or majority rule is used to make the decision. Or the team leader may empower the team to make the decision on their own.

Some basic operating rules related to making decisions include:

  • Fully consider all options
  • Strive to reach consensus
  • Deal with the current issue--don’t bring up old issues
  • Avoid analysis paralysis
  • Disagree and commit

Once a decision is made, every team member needs to support it. At Intel, former CEO Andy Grove, demanded that his people argue and debate the issue, but once a decision is made, each team member had to fully support the decision. You can’t start badmouthing a decision once you leave the meeting.


High performing teams have three things:

  1. A competent and skilled team leader
  2. Talented and committed team members
  3. Efficient communication and decision-making processes

Great teams not only produce great work, but team members are energized by the experience. Team cohesiveness increases when members grow and achieve success.

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