How many teams does one work with in a lifetime?  A collection of multiple teams working efficiently towards common goals are fundamental to the success of any program or organization.  It is therefore important for leaders to build a shared understanding and definition for high performance (individual and team).  After having worked in and with various diverse teams as a member and consultant (sometimes ones with major issues), the following factors or elements seem ‘non negotiable’, in order to develop a high performing team.

1. Self & Social Awareness
Self awareness is the fundamental building block of any development effort, either at the individual or team level.  Strong self and social awareness are consciously developed using appropriate tools or assessments (eg. Team Management Profile) and conscious practices. If practiced well in a consistent manner, they result in a high degree of personal trust, and creation of “friend, not foe”/“towards, not away” frames (Daniel Goleman’s ‘Social Intelligence’, David Rock’s ‘Quiet Leadership’). The leader spends time with team members actively listening, coaching and empowering (not controlling or answering questions always). He/she is conscious about keeping his or her own ego and biases under check. The perception of fairness within the team is strong. Enabling a learning environment ensures that team members are encouraged to stretch, acknowledge mistakes & learn to make necessary adjustments with accountability.  Team members feel encouraged to flourish and find meaning in their work, not restricted or controlled.

2. Key Stakeholders/Outside-In Perspective
These teams are aware of and always work with the key stakeholder perspectives (Dave Ulrich & Norm Smallwood use the term, “Outside-In”), while developing their Points of View.  To start with, they map out key internal and external stakeholders and work towards building strong relationships.

3. Purpose of Existence
Through the leaders initiative and facilitation, the team builds together clear, inspiring answers to these key questions: Why do we exist as a team? What is our common vision and purpose? How do we achieve value for our key stakeholders?

4. Clarity of Roles/Responsibilities
There is a strong understanding of each others’ roles and responsibilities, and how they practically interface with each other. These are aligned with the core objectives. I’ve found this area to be a big cause of frustration and conflicts within teams and the reality is that it is very difficult to document everything into a single ‘roles & responsibilities’ document in today’s constantly evolving environments. In cases where misalignment or confusion appears, clarity needs to be forged through constant open dialogues (facilitated by the leader or an expert). This will work smoothly only if the social and self awareness competencies of the team have been consciously developed in the beginning.

5. Diversity
For a high performing team, diversity in thinking, work preferences and approaches are essential. Mutually complementary and supporting skills ensure that there is a healthy spread of task, behavioral preferences and strengths.  Diversity has the potential to create more stress and challenging environments in the beginning, sometimes resulting in in negative conflicts but the potential for achievement is much higher if the social and awareness factors are addressed proactively. Constructive challenges help a team push a team further, without needing to wait for external stimuli.  Managing diversity can also serve as a strong test and development for the leader’s maturity, emotional intelligence and leadership skills. Michael Watkins (First Hundred Days) noted that organizations can be like organisms – they repel any new or foreign body entering the system. Diversity keeps a team open and sensitive to competitive challenges or strategic shifts and challenges ‘herd’ mentality.

6. Focus/Priorities
Most teams get inundated with demands over time and have the constant challenge of delivering more than they can support. High performing teams and leaders build clarity around the right priorities and results, through reflection, active dialogues, alignment with key stakeholders and focusing their intense efforts accordingly. The performance management and reward systems are aligned accordingly. This also relates to clarity on goals, expectations and progress reviews at the individual level. In his recent HBR article “The Focused Leader”, Daniel Goleman noted that a primary task of leadership is to direct attention.

For any leader of a team, it is helpful to ask oneself what percentage of time is spent reflecting on or discussing these topics – individually and with the team (especially during the early phases of a team’s forming and norming stages)? Most teams spend majority of their time discussing practical issues at hand or technical topics. If a leader does not facilitate and enable the building blocks of team development especially in the early stages, and constantly follow-up on these elements, she or he will spend a lot more time later thinking about and sorting out related issues.

It is never too late to start. This important team development capability needs to be built either internally with HR support or with external experts.  These factors become even more relevant and important for senior level teams with high impact on the overall organization.

Are there any other ‘must-haves’ in your view?

Best wishes…