Strategies to Create High-Performing Teams
In case you’ve ever wondered: our nautical name, Starboard, has everything to do with observing how high-performing teams operate and their characteristics. On the hydrofoil catamarans of America’s Cup racing, every member of the team knows their individual, specialist role and is relied upon to perform it with dedication and professionalism. Anyone watching the team’s performance can see the commitment to the team’s purpose and strategy.
With that in mind, here are the top qualities of high-performing teams; and strategies to help you maximise them in your organisation:
Building trust within teams creates a strong and cohesive group. Team members who trust one another share information and ideas, which improves communication, encourages innovation, and empowers individuals. Managing people who don’t trust each other is both challenging and draining for leaders, so here are some key ways to foster trust:
- Leaders need to deal fairly with different team members and to role-model trust in others e.g. senior peers, partners, consumers.
- Trust is gained through personal relationships, which involve face-to-face exchanges of facts and feelings, so seek to enable these wherever possible.
- Building trust is a slow process, but it can be accelerated if team members are given the opportunity to interact openly with each other, and socialise away from work.
The pattern and manner of communication and interaction within teams is more important to a team’s productivity than the substance of what is being communicated . Social contact should be fostered within teams (though – watch out! – there is an optimum amount of socialising before performance actually decreases.)
A key ingredient in developing high-levels of communication is to ensure that people genuinely listen to each other and respect the ideas of fellow team members. Teach colleagues how to actively listen to one another without interrupting, or to use non-verbal techniques. Again, role-model it, perhaps by using the 70-20-10 formula in conversations: 70% listening, 20% enquiring and 10% summarising information and providing a suggested course of action.
Creativity and innovation within teams is enabled when members engage with other teams, both socially and through their work. Maximise opportunities for collaboration and social interaction between different teams through inter-departmental projects; learning and development sessions; scheduling team members’ breaks at the same time; and even through adding longer tables in the staff restaurant.
Housing partnership RHP Group, previous Overall Winners of the CIPD Awards and No.1 Best Medium-Sized Company by Great Place to Work, hold company-wide “Live Lounge” sessions featuring external subject matter experts. These not only bring people together irrespective of team and department, but “bring the outside in”, thus fostering innovation. RHP’s ongoing recognition highlights the organisation’s innovative approaches to people and teams.
Shared leadership means that leadership is easily transferred from one member of the team to another. While the appointed team leader still holds accountability for the project, they are adept at enabling others to step up in different situations. As a result, team members are more likely to feel committed and driven to go the extra mile to deliver results. Teams with a Shared Leadership approach enhance their adaptability, and sustain performance through members’ accountability and resourcefulness.
Team leaders can create the conditions for effective shared leadership by being genuine, lowering their guard and not being concerned with projecting a perfect image. This results in team members feeling more comfortable to step into a leadership role in the right situation.
Differences in age, race, gender, and sexuality are key for a team’s diversity; however, differences in skills, working styles and opinions are also significant. The best performing team is generally not the one with the greatest collective IQ, but the one with the most complementary skills and knowledge transfer amongst its members. Diversity of opinion spurs debate between team members, improving both innovation and problem solving .
Organisations can enhance diversity by encouraging employees to be themselves. If an organisational culture promotes authenticity, then more diversity within teams is an outcome. Conversely, if a culture is stifling, teams are much more likely to be homogenous, and therefore lacking the capacity for the highest levels of performance.
Interviewed for Executive Grapevine, Tesco Bank People Director, Therese Procter, spoke about creating conditions where any team member feels welcome and unjudged. She commented, “In my experience, teams that are more diverse create a culture of greater empathy and creativity often leading to better results.”
With a clear and deep understanding of organisational and team purpose, team members are able to discern how their specific day-to-day activities make an impact. Understanding that their work has meaning and significance is both motivating and empowering. Leaders enable this by consistently connecting back to vision and goals in simple terms.
Is it possible to go far enough in ensuring each team member understands their role and how it contributes to the overall goal? An example: On a visit to NASA HQ in 1961, President Kennedy spoke to a man sweeping up in one of the hangars. “What’s your job here?” asked Kennedy. “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor replied, “I’m working to put a man on the moon.”
So in summary, ask yourself if there are missing elements that could enable your team to engage together with an increased sense of purpose and trust? Ask yourself if your team could collectively achieve better results, and enjoy the sense of energy and motivation when this happens? Why not make a personal commitment to take at least one action towards this now?
To read more about the effects of diversity and leadership on team performance, click here.
 Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management, Martha Maznevski, Joseph J. DiStefano.
 Gallup What Strong Teams Have in Common.