High-performance teams perform better and keep their team members more satisfied than regular teams. They share a vision, communicate frequently at and after work, and show zealous energy. Their leaders resolve conflicts fast, build trust, and foster coordination. Identifying and mapping key criteria of high-performance teams in a context can help in converting more teams into the same mode. In this CQ Dossier, we introduce you to the main characteristics of high-performance teams and make recommendations on how to develop such teams.
Teams are groups of individuals who are carefully selected to perform tasks for achieving common goals. A typical team has a high degree of task interdependence and frequently communicates to share information and feedback (De Jong et al., 2016). However, teams vary widely in their construction, structure, and processes - these differences consequentially impact their performance.
High performance teams overcome problems faced by regular teams
This is where high performance teams triumph; they ensure that they share a common vision, break it into measurable tasks, frequently communicate and share feedback, and take quick decisions (De Vries, 1999).
Compared to normal teams, high-performance teams are five times more productive and lead to a probability of 1.9 times higher financial outcome (Keller & Meaney, 2017). They are also reported to show more energy, engagement, and explore more options while connecting with each other during and after team tasks (Moga, 2017; Pentland, 2012).
High-performance teams regularly network and communicate towards common goals
Considering the benefits of high-performance teams, what features are associated with them is an important question. According to Keller & Meaney (2017), it is having a common vision which inspires all members.
According to Losada (1999), it is the connectivity among the members which Zenk et al. (2010) define as having dynamic network patterns.
Finally, in Ocker & Fjermestad's (2000) opinion, it is the frequent communication among team members who not only share more alternatives for decisions, they also summarize what each member is doing to keep everyone on the same page.
High-performance teams are aware of what to do, when to do it, and how to do it
The so-called Douglas Gerber model says that high-performance teams believe in VIVRE FAT. They have a vision, common identity and values, they believe in effectiveness and results, and in order to achieve all this, they make work fun or enjoyable, build trust, and remain aligned with each other’s tasks and progress.
High-performance teams cooperate across purpose, process, leadership, and results
The so-called MacMillan model shows that high-performance teams cooperate throughout the setting up of a purpose, roles, leadership, processes, team relationships, and communication systems. It is excelling at all these aspects that fetches the coveted business results for the team members.
Evidence for high-performance teams exists
MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory studied what exactly makes teams high performers and identified factors that could be observed and measured (Pentland, 2012). The researchers scoured places of work to find teams that had similar features which were then studied for their communication patterns using electronic badges.
Communication and networking ability are strong predictors of team success
As shown by evidence above, communication patterns were found to predict team success. High performance team members networked even after work hours and were deeply engaged with the tasks and with each other. Based on a succession of such mapped observations, these researchers were able to predict which teams would win contests just by looking at their badges.
High-performance teams share common factors which can be used to create better teams
Jackson & Madsen (2005) conducted a content analysis of studies published on the topic of high-performance teams and concluded that they share common factors including
a shared definition of the purpose and goals of the team,
efficient and effective communication and conflict resolution
management of power and,
decisions about incentives and other forms of motivation.
It is these common factors that allow them to deliver better results and keep their members better satisfied.
Meta-analytic studies confirming high-performance teams are few but affirm their existence
Stewart (2006) conducted a meta-analysis of 93 studies to reveal that higher levels of autonomy while making decisions and coordination among team members drove higher performance in teams. Transformational and empowering leaders also drive teams to deliver better results.
Zenger & Folkman (2016) surveyed 66,000 team leaders to find out how they created successful teams which delivered high performance and had driven and motivated members. Factor Analysis revealed that five essential factors were responsible in converting regular teams into high-performers.
These included having an inspiring team leader who resolved conflicts and drove cooperation, set stretch goals, encouraged frequent communication of the common goals, and was trusted by his team members. Between team leaders of successful and low performing teams, the main difference was that the former excelled at all five of these dimensions which made more than 70% of their team members highly driven and committed to their teams.
It is possible to convert regular teams into their high-performance versions
Dutra et al. (2015) believe that there is a need to develop high-performance teams in the software development industry and it is possible to do by focusing on some areas. These areas include teamwork and communication which can be developed through verbalization and observation groups workshops and group activities. Moreover, team members can be trained in motivation and leadership through projects, activities, and simulation exercises.
Mapping and careful analysis helps develop and train teams
What is important is that teams are mapped to understand what kind of support they need and trainers educated and equipped to do so. Cornide-Reyes et al. (2018) conducted system mapping to see how software development education can incorporate the development of agile high-performance teams.
High-performance teams also need critical factors to succeed
Castka et al. (2001) have identified critical factors that guarantee success for high-performance teams. These factors include:
the support of the organization
a clear focus on the task
availability of required knowledge and skills
alignment with other environmental factors and the individual needs of team members
a positive group culture, and
established measures for performance.
Lippert & Dulewicz (2018) stress that it is trustworthiness which is the most important factor for the success of virtual high-performance teams but this may be because virtual teams’ biggest barrier for success is lack of trust.
Moldjord & Iversen (2015) have also stressed on development of trust and have suggested that the values of familiarity, care, recognition of others, transparency and reducing contradictions between team members can help in building trust.
Evidence suggests that there are high-performance teams which are more productive and have more satisfied members.
These teams have some common characteristics which allows practitioners to predict which teams will perform better in study contexts.
All teams can be converted into high-performance versions if key factors can be developed and members trained.
References and further reading
Castka, P., Bamber, C. J., Sharp, J. M., & Belohoubek, P. (2001). Factors affecting successful implementation of high performance teams. Team Performance Management: An International Journal.
Cornide-Reyes, H., Campillay, S., Alfaro, A., & Villarroel, R. (2018). Identification of skills for the formation of agile high performance teams: a systematic mapping. Conference on Information Technologies and Communication of Ecuador, 141–152.
De Jong, B. A., Dirks, K. T., & Gillespie, N. (2016). Trust and team performance: A meta-analysis of main effects, moderators, and covariates. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(8), 1134.
De Vries, M. F. R. K. (1999). High-performance teams: Lessons from the pygmies. Organizational Dynamics, 27(3), 66–77.
Dutra, A. C. S., Prikladnicki, R., & Conte, T. (2015). Characteristics of high performance software development teams. International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems, 345–363.
Gerber, D. (2019). Team Quotient: How to Build High Performance Leadership Teams that Win Every Time. Turner.
Jackson, B., & Madsen, S. R. (2005). Common Factors of High Performance Teams. Online Submission.
Moldjord, C., & Iversen, A. (2015). Developing vulnerability trust in temporary high performance teams. Team Performance Management.
Ocker, R. J., & Fjermestad, J. (2000). High versus low performing virtual design teams: A preliminary analysis of communication. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 9-pp.
Sumbul is a freelance academic writer with a PhD in Human Resource Management. She has several research publications in the areas of organizational behavior, management, statistics, business environment, and Sustainability. She has also authored a textbook on Human Resource Management. Her passions include travelling, sampling different cuisines, and being a life-long learner.