The Characteristics of High-Performing Teams
How does an average team become a high-performing one? Jamil Qureshi, a performance coach and psychologist, has coached business leaders, English Premier football clubs, Formula 1 racecar drivers, and many top golfers. He shares five indicators teams can use to assess their performance.
When asked to think of a successful team, what characteristics come to mind? Perhaps it is adjectives like excellence, intelligence, or self-starter.
It may surprise you that it matters less who is on the team, and more about how team members treat each other. Google spent two years researching what makes some of their teams more successful than others. They performed an internal study and found that high-performing teams rely more on positive interactions than on members with superstar qualities.
In her article for Harvard Business Review, “High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It”, Laura Delizonna explains the evolutionary need for psychological safety, and why it is important for success. Delizonna also cites research conducted by Barbara Fredrickson, who discovered that psychological safety is essential for humans to feel more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent.
This system, called the broaden-and-build mode, explains that when positive emotions are experienced, a person is more open to exploring new thoughts or opportunities. In the HBR article, Delizonna notes that workplaces that are challenging—but not threatening—are optimal for sustaining Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build mode.
While broadening mindsets may contribute to a team being high-performing, Qureshi uses this definition: “a high-performing team is a team where the collective output is higher when compared to individual output.”
Here are five indicators you can use to assess your team’s performance:
1. Do you create value in and for the team?
Rather than define the team or company by what they sell, reframe and define by what your customers value.
Action: Ask yourself and your team two questions:
- What do our customers value?
- What do our internal customers (employees) want?
"This line of questioning moves the thought process from transaction to transformation," Qureshi says.
“We do not break habits; we rewrite them. Plan to change by one degree at a time, which is practical and realistic.”
2. Do you improve by 1° each day?
Recognise that high-performance does not just happen. “We do not break habits; we rewrite them. Plan to change by one degree at a time, which is practical and realistic,” says Qureshi.
Action: Since the trick is to be a little better each day, reflect on your patterns and behaviours. There is no need to set aside an hour a week; rather, plan to do frequent and brief check-ins. “High performance comes from questioning our behaviours,” says Qureshi.
3. Do you live in the triangle of performance?
The first corner in the triangle of performance is having to want to do the task, the second is knowing how to do or tackle the challenge, and the third is knowing why to work on the problem or complete the task. “Many teams have two of these traits; it is rare to find a team that has all three,” explains Qureshi.
Action: Look at your team and identify what point of the triangle is the weakest for your team. Then spend some time each week defining and creating a concrete plan to improve the triangle.
4. Do you take breathers?
Good collaboration and high-performance needs time and space. “The answer is not to pedal faster, but to take the time to question and think faster,” Qureshi explains.
Action: Reflect on your and the team’s definitions of productivity and activity. Align on the definition for each, and then work towards prioritising productivity over activity each day.
5. Do you hold team mates responsible and in high regard?
It is a common conception that high-performing teams have strong leaders. “Rather, high-performing teams have peer responsibility which drives performance. Cultivate an environment where colleagues call each other out,” Qureshi says. But keep in mind both Delizonna’s article and Fredrickson’s research that both state that psychological safety is the basis of trust, which is needed for teams to be able to be both honest and dependable.
Action: Begin by making the decision to commit to high-performance. Then think about how you and your team will stay competitive. Brainstorm solutions and prioritise small wins over big leaps.
While high-performance may seem elusive, start by creating trust and using the broaden-and-build system in small teams. Then, let the success spread. “Create levels of curiosity to outperform and make the most of potential. Drive performance by questioning,” suggests Qureshi.
Jamil Qureshi was in Singapore speaking at SIM Professional Development’s 2017 Singapore Management Festival.