Six characteristics of a high-performance team

By Pat MacMillan
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/06/2001

For most people, positive team experiences are rare. And those who have been part of an extraordinary team in the past, probably long for that experience again. People often drift in and then out of extraordinary team situations, wondering what made that group “click” and how to replicate it.

Research has found consistently similar qualities and characteristics in teams that achieve exceptional results.

•Common purpose — The effective team is united and motivated by a clear and compelling purpose that provides the reason for co-operation. The power of a team flows out of commitment to a purpose around which every team member is aligned.

•Clear roles — Roles are the means by which we design, divide and deploy the work of the team, and when done well the team achieves synergy by leveraging the gifts and skills of individual members as they exercise their specialties.

•Accepted leadership — High-performance teams need clear, competent leaders who can serve, set direction, manage boundaries and coach the team members toward extraordinary results. These leaders are capable of stimulating the levels of commitment, initiative and creativity that lead to unprecedented levels of both individual and collective performance.

•Effective team processes — The high-performance team designs processes that allow members to think and work together with synergy. They consistently identify, map and then master their key team and business processes.

•Solid relationships — Effective teams manage their differences to create the climate needed for high levels of co-operation. Solid team relationships are characterized by trust, mutual accountability, acceptance, respect, courtesy and a liberal dose of understanding.

•Excellent communication — Fast, clear, accurate communication is the means by which teams tap into the collective brilliance of the group. High-performance teams have mastered the art of straight talk, which allows them to be tough on the issues without blowing team relationships out of the water. Such talk is characterized by clear, straightforward communication that is honest, timely and accurate.

The process of productive discussion and dialogue allows the truly effective team to productively resolve differences and achieve exceptional results.

Teams must sit down on a regular basis and assess the quality of their communication. What’s working? What’s not working? How can we do better?

The following are some tips to help teams improve their communication.

•Proactively attempt to build solid relationships among team members. Trust and communication go hand-in-hand; when team members feel respected by the group, they are much more likely to risk voicing contrary opinions to ideas, directions and conclusions with which they disagree.

•Model active listening. We tend to focus most of our energy on the sending part of communication and little on the receiving side. We would be well served by reversing our emphasis.

•Engage everyone all the time. In facilitating team discussions, decision-making or problem-solving sessions, reach out to the edge of the group where the quieter, more reflective team members tend to be found.

•Use brainstorming to help the team generate and assess ideas. This process separates the idea-generating phase from the evaluation phase, thus reducing fears of criticism and increasing a participant’s willingness to risk suggesting off-the-wall ideas.

•Clear communication inevitably leads to conflict. Teams need to master the art of conflict resolution in order to maintain the high levels of straight talk needed to co-ordinate collective efforts and find synergy.

Excellent communication doesn’t just happen naturally. It is a product of process, skill, climate, relationships and hard work.

When it comes to high-performance teams, these six characteristics are lightning in a bottle.

Each plays a specific and vital role in making the team effective. If a team gets these few things right, they will realize results. By effectively applying these principles, teams can avoid many of the pitfalls and problems that can derail team initiatives.

Pat MacMillan is the founder and chief executive officer of Team Resources, Inc. For more information, go to www.theperformancefactor.com.

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