What Makes a High Performing Team

It’s not always the companies with the best products that win, or even those with the most funding. It’s the teams that I call high performing that make it to the top.

Here I’d like to share the qualities that I’ve found to be consistent across the strongest teams that I’ve worked with, along with tips that you use to build high performing teams of your own.

#1 A Culture of Trust

Everything starts with trust. You can have a team of individuals at the top of their field, but if they don’t trust in each other, they’ll never achieve their full potential.

On teams, trust stems from a sense of psychological safety; a knowledge that it’s safe to take risks without fear of punishment if things don’t work out, and the confidence to know that no question, idea or request will be ridiculed.  

Of course, trust is never granted; it’s earned.

#2 High EQ Leadership

So how do you actually earn that trust? It often flows from leaders with high EQ (emotional intelligence).

One of my clients taught me that a high EQ leader is someone who:

  • Listens
  • Is authentic
  • Encourages people to speak up about how things are going, good or bad
  • Is good at giving and receiving feedback
  • Cares personally about their peoples’ professional development

I’ve observed that high EQ leaders have a particularly keen ability to understand other people’s emotions. They’re uniquely good at figuring out what their people care about, on the job well as outside of work.

Once you understand what motivates an individual, you can create a unique plan to help them develop, grow and meet their goals. In turn, people tend to be more productive once they have a clear sense of where they’re going and how their actions today fit into their goals for the future.  

#3 Empowered Stakeholders

With trust and effective leadership in place, it’s time to arm every member of your team with the knowledge, processes and guardrails that they need to make decisions and take action fast.

To create a team of empowered stakeholders, you should endeavor to:

  • Avoid centralized or democratized decision-making, particularly on small tasks and details that may seem important. This can slow things down dramatically.
  • Ensure that one person (just one!) is the owner of each task or project. By making one person responsible for driving a project to completion, you create accountability and ownership, even if the entire team needs to contribute in some way.
  • Centralize knowledge whenever possible. It can be challenging, but ritualizing knowledge sharing and memorializing information across an organization is critical. Try working with collaborative tools, like group Slack channels instead of DMs, internal Wiki’s, shared Google Drives, or Mode Analytics for open reporting.
  • Set clear boundaries and guidelines. Each team will have certain rules of engagement… write these down. They can be simple, like how you prefer to communicate as a team, or more complex, like what processes you use for project management. Think of these as “brand guidelines” for your team and company.

#4 Speed

High performing teams know how to prioritize speed. To set a speedy cadence, you need fast decision-making, and processes in place to facilitate quick execution.

Know who needs to be involved in decision making and who doesn’t, follow a consistent decision-making  process, and move forward. The key is to have frameworks in place that provide checks and balances and promote the best outcomes, without requiring involvement from leadership at every step.

Organizations are constantly iterating and evolving, so sometimes it’s more important to make your decisions timely than to make them perfect, if striving for perfection gets in the way of progress.

#5 Clear Communication of Goals and Performance

Each team and each team member should have a clear goal.

Company performance and individual performance are all tied to goals, which need to be revisited often, with progress or setbacks communicated not just by the CEO but by functional leaders across sales, marketing, product, and any other department in your organization.

Use team meetings to acknowledge individual contributions toward goals, to recognize team wins, and to share updates on team performance. When run effectively, team meetings can be a gamechangers for motivation and morale, even if performance is below expectations… bad meetings do just the opposite.

#6 Clarity of Purpose

There has been study after study on the importance of purpose behind the success at companies, so this should come as no surprise.

Every member of your team needs to know why they should be putting in any effort in the first place, before they can be expected to give it their all. With clarity of purpose, it becomes easier for people to commit to taking action toward their individuals goals, which is critical for teams to achieve their shared goals.

Purpose has the power to unite people around a common cause. Without it, it’s easy to slip into stagnation, ambivalence… even chaos.