If you lead a team, you know that the journey to high-performance is ongoing. It’s the rare team that achieves high-performance and just stays there. In my business life, whether I’ve managed a team within an organization, or run my own company, it’s been unusual to keep the same team together for longer than a year. Team members come and go, driven by the needs of the organization and their own career goals. And every time the members of a team changes, the team needs to regroup and refocus.
What’s a team leader to do? For starters, focus on the seven characteristics of a high-performing team (what we call a Total Team at NetSpeed Leadership):
Shared Purpose and Direction
On a high-performing team, everyone on the team is committed to the team’s purpose. They know exactly what that purpose is because the team leader keeps them focused by constantly communicating that purpose in team meetings and regular updates. The team leader helps each individual team member meet his or new own needs while serving the overall purpose of the team.
The team leader ensures that everyone on the team has clearly defined goals and targets. In some organizations, the strategic goals and departmental objectives are determined by senior management. In that case, the team leader makes sure that these goals are clearly discussed. Team members should understand how their jobs support the achievement of the defined goals, and, if possible, have the opportunity to develop individual goals and action plans that spell out how they will contribute to the success of the organization.
Commitment to Individual and Team Roles
On a Total Team, team members have clearly defined expectations but they also understand how each of their roles is linked to every other role. Team leaders ensure that team members are cross-trained in other responsibilities so that everyone can back each other up when needed. The team leader makes sure that individual job responsibilities are fulfilled, but, at the same time, works to help the individuals develop a common language, processes and approaches that allow them to function as a team.
On the best teams, team members solve problems, communicate with each other, and keep the team leader updated on current challenges or emerging issues. On low-performing teams, communication is one-way (from team leader to team members) or two-way (between the team leader and individuals). Skilled leaders focus on developing multi-directional communication, avoiding the trap of communicating with individuals members of the team.
Authority to Decide or Act
No doubt about it, new teams may have to earn this authority by demonstrating that they understand the team’s purpose, processes and priorities. However, effective team leaders work toward pushing authority for the team’s outcomes to the team members. Team members know how and when to get approval for decisions and, in the best of cases, are charged with making on-the-spot decisions when a customer is facing them. On low-performing teams, team members have to constantly get approval before taking action, significantly reducing their effectiveness and negatively affecting their sense of engagement on the team.
Reliance on Diverse Talents
Savvy team leaders pay attention to helping team members understand their unique strengths, talents, and weaknesses. No individual team member can be good at everything. The best team leaders assist everyone to develop an appreciation for individual style differences, natural gifts, and personal experience. Teams are encouraged to use the language of acceptance and appreciation, rather than criticism and judgment. Team leaders consciously hire team members who bring complementary skill sets, unique experience, and diverse perspectives.
Mutual Support and Trust
The seventh characteristic may be the most important, and frankly, is probably the most elusive. The team leader can’t force a team to be supportive and trusting–it’s a natural result of shared responsibility, shared success, and mutual respect. The high-performing team achieves mutual support and trust because they have a history of working together to achieve grand dreams and results. They have met challenges, overcome obstacles, backed each other up in good times and bad. The Total Team has earned each other’s trust.
Building a high-performing team is not an easy task. However, if you’re a team leader that is up to the challenge, then consciously focus on developing these seven characteristics. Bring them to your next team meeting and ask team members to evaluate them. How do you know whether each of these characteristics is present or absent on your team? What is the team willing to do to develop these seven characteristics? Then ask the individuals on your team to commit to 3 – 5 specific actions they will take in the next 60 days. Revisit these commitments regularly and see what develops. I guarantee a rewarding journey to high-performance.