What a high-performing team looks like

By Elle Holder

8 min read

What a high-performing team looks like
Illustration by Justin Alm

It’s not a stretch to say that the success of an organization could depend largely on the performance of its teams. Of course, not all teams are created equal, so understanding what makes a high-performing team can be the difference between success and barely making it, no matter what type of business you’re in.

The following will discuss the core characteristics that define a high-performing team and look at the benefits they can bring to an organization. From clear communication and mutual trust to a shared vision and adaptability, this type of team can achieve outstanding collaboration and efficiency. By understanding and implementing these attitudes, organizations can develop and promote teams that not only meet their goals but exceed them.

Defining a high-performing team

If you want to foster an environment where excellence drives, as mentioned above, you’ll need to understand the characteristics of a high-performing team. 

Characteristics

  • Clear goals and vision: High-performing teams have clear goals and vision. They share a unified purpose, understand their objectives, and work to align their efforts with the broader goals of the organization.
  • Strong leadership: A good — strong — leader will provide guidance and support. This helps to create an environment where team members feel valued and empowered.
  • Effective communication: In the best of teams, information is shared openly and honestly. Everyone on the team prioritizes constructive listening and responsive interactions.

Examples

Google

Under Project Aristotle, Google identified the ingredients of high-performing teams. They analyzed data from hundreds of teams, looking at factors like size, composition, and communication patterns. They discovered that psychological safety was the most important factor. Teams where members felt comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas without fear of judgment, and openly admitting mistakes led to a more creative and collaborative environment.

Key attributes of high-performing teams

High-performing teams possess certain key attributes that set them apart and enable them to achieve outstanding results. These teams are defined by:

Trust and collaboration

Trust is the foundation of effective teamwork. It allows team members to rely on each other, share ideas freely, and work cohesively.

How to build trust within a team 

  • Foster open and honest communication
  • Encourage team-building activities and social interactions
  • Ensure consistency and reliability in actions and decisions

Diverse skill sets

Diverse teams bring a range of perspectives and ideas. This diversity helps them to be more innovative and better at problem-solving.

How diversity contributes to team performance

  • Varied experiences and skills enhance creativity in decision-making
  • Diversity promotes a broader understanding of your markets and your customers’ needs

Accountability

Accountability ensures that everyone on the team is responsible for their own tasks. It also promotes a sense of ownership and commitment to team goals.

Strategies to foster accountability

  • Set clear expectations and defined roles
  • Implement regular progress reviews and feedback sessions
  • Encourage transparency and an open discussion of responsibilities

Adaptability and flexibility

Adaptability enables teams to respond effectively to any changing circumstances. And in the face of challenges, it can help them be innovative when necessary.

Examples of teams that thrived through adaptability

  • Netflix: Successfully transitioned from their original DVD rental service to being a leading streaming platform
  • Slack: Went from being a gaming company to a highly successful business communication tool

Bring your people together

Building a high-performing team 

As you’ve probably guessed by now, creating a high-performing team is going to take some work. It will require effort in several areas, from recruitment to leadership to continuous development. But it’s worth the effort — by focusing on these elements, organizations can develop teams that consistently achieve and exceed their goals.

Recruitment and onboarding

The first step in building a high-performing team is recruiting the right talent. You need to hire individuals who have the necessary skills but also fit well with your company culture. This ensures that your new hires integrate smoothly into your teams and contribute effectively right from the get-go.

Equally important are your onboarding practices. Using a structured onboarding process will help your team members understand the role, the team’s goals, and the company’s values. Providing this early clarity and support will help set the foundation for their success and ongoing contributions to the team.

Leadership and management

Effective leaders provide vision, direction, and motivation, all helping to create an environment where team members feel valued and inspired to perform their best. Leadership styles that promote high performance typically emphasize inclusivity, empowerment, and support. For example, a transformational leader will encourage innovation and personal growth, which will enhance team dynamics and productivity. And servant leaders, who prioritize the needs of their team members, can build strong, trust-based relationships that drive performance.

Continuous learning and development

Ongoing training will ensure that your team members’ skills remain relevant and sharp, enabling them to tackle any new challenge effectively. Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves encouraging curiosity, fostering an open-minded approach to learning, and providing opportunities for professional development. This helps to enhance individual capabilities, but it will also drive the team collectively towards success.

Measuring team performance

Effectively measuring team performance helps ensure that your teams remain on track and continuously improve. By utilizing specific metrics and regular feedback, your organization can gain valuable insights into your team’s efficiency and productivity.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Common KPIs for team performance:

  • Productivity rates, such as tasks completed or projects delivered
  • Quality of work, including error rates and customer satisfaction
  • Team engagement, which could include employee satisfaction surveys and retention rates
  • Collaboration metrics, such as frequency of meetings and participation levels
  • Goal attainment, including percentage of goals met on time

How to set and track KPIs:

  • Identify key objectives and align your team’s KPIs with organizational goals
  • Ensure your KPIs are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART)
  • Use tracking tools and software to monitor their progress
  • Regularly review and adjust your KPIs to reflect the changing priorities and circumstances of your organization

Feedback and evaluation

The importance of regular feedback:

  • Helps identify areas for improvement and also recognizes achievements
  • Encourages continuous development and motivation
  • Builds open communication and trust within the team

Methods for evaluating team performance:

  • Performance reviews and one-on-one meetings
  • 360-degree feedback from peers, subordinates, and supervisors
  • Surveys and feedback tools to gather insights from team members
  • Analysis of KPI data to assess overall team performance
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Challenges and Solutions

It’s not unusual for high-performing teams to encounter a variety of challenges that can hinder their progress and performance. Understanding these obstacles and implementing effective solutions will help maintain team efficiency and morale.

Common challenges

Examples of obstacles:

  • Poor communication and misunderstandings
  • Lack of clear goals and direction
  • Conflicts among team members
  • Poor distribution of workloads
  • Resistance to change and innovation
  • Limited resources and support

Impact of these challenges on performance:

  • Decreased productivity and efficiency
  • Lowered team morale and engagement
  • Increased stress and burnout among team members
  • Delayed project timelines and missed deadlines
  • Reduced quality of work and outcomes

Effective solutions

Fortunately, there are several proven strategies that can help overcome these common challenges. Whether your teams are facing one or several of these issues, you can help. This will involve enhancing communication, clarity, and collaboration. Regular communication channels and meetings will be necessary to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that all information flows transparently. Setting clear, achievable goals with the support and direction of leadership will help provide the necessary focus and motivation that your team needs.

Managing conflicts effectively will mean fostering a culture of respect and open dialogue, where issues can be addressed constructively. And ensuring that you evenly distribute workloads will help to prevent burnout and make it easier to recognize individual contributions, which will boost morale and engagement.

When you encourage a growth mindset and adaptability, this will help your teams embrace change while encouraging innovation. Teams should be open to new ideas and flexible in their approach to problem-solving. And finally, be sure to provide your teams with all necessary resources and support, as this is a key factor in enabling their success.

Real-world examples:

  • Microsoft: Microsoft improved team collaboration and innovation with their One Microsoft initiative, breaking down organizational silos and enhancing communication across the company.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb had to pivot their business model during the pandemic, which they did by encouraging team adaptability.

Conclusion

In summary, high-performing teams can be characterized by a combination of clear goals, strong leadership, effective communication, trust, collaboration, diverse skill sets, accountability, and adaptability. If you focus on these attributes and implement strategies to overcome common challenges, your organization can build and sustain high-performing teams that will drive success and continuous improvement.

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