Whatever the industry, there are certain elements that all high performance teams (HPTs) have in common. When building a HPT, the onus is not only on the employee but on leadership as well. In some regards, HPTs are born. In other ways they are selected, shaped and refined. Of course, a good working definition of what a HPT is and some prerequisites are necessary in order to achieve one. A high level of interpersonal skills are required to get the job done.
Team members need to trust one another (Solis, Sinfield, & Abraham, 2013). Trust comes with relationship building- Not necessarily friendships but relationships that are built on the premise of professionalism and mutual respect (Savage, 2009). To establish trust, employees should spend a portion of their work day helping others. They should sometimes go out of their way and be quick to help team members who need it (Savage, 2009).
Another way that management can support a trusting environment is by holding all team members to the same standards outlined in the company policy manual (Savage, 2009). For example, enforcing a lateness policy for some and letting others slide can wreak havoc on the trust and cohesiveness of the team as a whole. In other words, do not show favoritism. This may seem like a no-brainer. However, you just might personally like one employee more than another so be careful for subconscious manifestations of this.
Knowledge sharing is of major importance to organizational success, especially in the team environment. The trust issue is intertwined with knowledge sharing. Employees may think that giving up what they know could lessen their competitive edge. A study on public sector employees found that trust in the supervisor affected the degree to which the employees shared knowledge (Kim & Ko, 2014). People in the organization should feel as though sharing their knowledge will benefit themselves as well as the organization. Supervisors should show appreciation of employees which in turn promotes trust and knowledge sharing (Kim & Ko, 2014).
Values and Goals
HPTs are also on the same page when it comes to values and goals (Solis et al. 2013). Each team member should have a clear understanding of the mission statement before project inception. You cannot expect stellar performance without well-articulated and preferably measurable performance standards. These standards should be transparent and fair so that each employee understands why there may be differences in incentives for various team members (Rastogi, 2010). Why would there be differences in incentives? At first glance this may seem unfair but incentives should be individualized - More on that later.
Employees need to professionally express themselves in a way that is in alignment with their own personal values and goals. For example, suppose that there are two ways of solving a problem. Maybe one of the methods is in an area where the employee would like to advance his or her proficiency level. Unnecessarily rigid work algorithms would then stifle this self-directed professional development. Team members should have the autonomy to work in their own manner as long as it is does not conflict with the project mission (Taylor, 2012).
Whether a marriage, friendship, or any human relationship for that matter, communication always lies at the foundation of success. Although the relationship dynamics may be different from personal relationships, communication in nonetheless paramount to smooth functioning in a work team. HPTs communicate well with one another (Solis et al. 2013). You should always seek feedback from your employees on a regular basis and be open to their suggestions as Kevin Mehok, Contributing Editor for Auto Body repair Network suggests (Mehok, 2013). This is sound advice across the board, not just for those in the auto mechanics industry.
High Performance Teams are selected, shaped and maintained.
Perhaps you are tasked with the responsibility of building a team from the ground up. Here is where you might as well target people who would be a good fit to the team. Raj Kanaya, CEO of Infineta Systems suggests that HPTs are an outcome of careful selection and therefore starts at the recruiting phase (Kanaya, 2011). Kanaya cautions against going after seasoned candidates with a long list of impressive achievements but no actual successful team experience. These employees may have learned bad ideas about teams and accept underachievement as the norm. People who have had past successful experiences are likely to have gained the confidence required to sustain in future projects and this positivity spreads across the organization (Kanaya, 2011).
If not building from the ground up, management can facilitate a positive team experience. Social activities and work retreats are just some ideas of how to build trust among team members. There are important implications here for management as well. Those in the leadership role need to get to know their staff. There are good reasons for personalizing management and more on that will be discussed later. With such laid back or exciting experiences in a non-work context, people have the opportunity to learn how to communicate with each other before the project starts. Then, a sense of trust can be established. In fact, it was found that open and smooth communication among team members was an important factor to consider in order to reduce conflict in a study of employees in the I.T., manufacturing, design and electronics industries in China (Huo, Zhang, & Guo, 2016). Yet, exhibit caution when it comes to conflict. Some of it can be beneficial particularly if it is constructive and challenges erroneous or misguided theories and practices. It is the negative type, such as disrespectful communication among employees, to watch out for.
When assigning tasks, consider each employee’s strength and weaknesses. It is part of the role of leadership to know each employee’s knowledge and skill set. If there is a particular client or project that relies heavily on a particular skill set, match staff members appropriately or at least place the better-skilled person for the task as the head of the project.
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Implementing motivational techniques should be combined with appropriate task delegation to create an organization that fosters HPTs (Rastogi, 2010). There is no one-size-fits-all approach to motivating. Each employee must be considered individually. For example, one employee may prefer attention, whereas the other may get going by recognition and enhanced status within the company (Rastogi, 2010). Consider that everyone may not want a promotion. It could be that some are comfortable with their current level of responsibility. Alternatively, a new role could translate to shifting work hours. Some employees could may view that as problematic because it could, for instance, interfere with work-life balance. Leaders should always keep in mind that organizations do not think, but instead, the employees there do (Rastogi, 2010). Having the so-called “soft” people skills are critical in management and there is no exception when it comes to team building.
Even when a team is reaching the marks outlined in the mission statement, its members should not become complacent. HPTs are constantly striving for ways to improve. They are future-oriented and reflect on how past performance translates to successive projects. So, how can the team reach this enlightened state? The highest performing members of a group should show the way to the not-so-highly performing members (Kautt, 2016). Even the gurus should seek coaches and consultants to further strengthen their skills.
Once you have built and developed a HPT, the work does not end there. Leadership should be constantly engaged to give employees an incentive to keep doing well. Immediate rewards for high-level performance is one way (Kautt, 2016). Tangible rewards such as gas cards, movie tickets or retail shop gift certificates are often well-received by staff. If you are uncertain of what to select, there is a simple solution- Administer a brief survey. You can have employees rank their top three choices of rewards that you have pre-selected, remembering to stay within the budget, of course. This could even help motivate them from the beginning since they know what extra perks can be gained by superb performance.
As is apparent by this point, effective leadership plays a huge part in building a successful team. Further, creating a HPT is a continuous, cyclical process of selection, formation, shaping and improvement. Of course, technical knowledge is important, but the interpersonal dynamics should be a primary focus point. Much of building a HPT depends on remaining in close contact with team members. HPTs cannot be built and maintained from ivory towers. Get to know your team members. Become familiar with their professional strengths, weaknesses and even their goals. Also know their likes and dislikes and how to best motivate them. Put your people skills to work and watch your team soar!
References and further reading
Huo, X., Zhang, L., & Guo, H. (2016). Antecedents of relationship conflict in cross-functional project teams. Project Management Journal, 52–69.
Kanaya, R. (2011, May 1). The calm, confident organization. Siliconindia, pp. 6-7.
Kautt, G. G. (2016, February). Building high-performance teams. Financial Planning, pp. 25-26.
Kim, Y. W., & Ko, J. (2014). HR practices and knowledge sharing behavior: Focusing on the moderating effect of trust in supervisor. Public Personnel Management, 586-607.
Mehok, K. (2013, July). Strength in team building. Auto Body Repair Network, pp. 21-22.
Rastogi, P. (2010, January). Are you motivating your team for winning performance? Paintindia, pp. 87-90.
Savage, R. R. (2009, October). The secrets of successful teamwork: trust & accountability. Supervision, pp. 16-18.
Solis, F., Sinfield, J. V., & Abraham, a. D. (2013). Hybrid Approach to the Study of Inter-Organization High Performance Teams. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 379-393.
Taylor, H. K. (2012, May 1). Career masterclass: Building a team. Management Today.
Danielle Hall is a business consultant with over seven years of experience. Danielle has worked with N.G.O.s, government agencies as well as with private for-profits. She has helped several small businesses in the area of development and also specializes is quantitative analytics. Danielle holds a Master’s degree in psychology and an Ph.D. in organizational psychology.