The world is changing from hierarchical towards a flatter organisational structure. More and more companies are trying it out and making people work in teams. High-performance teams can really make a difference, but only, if it’s done right!
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
I have been working with different kind of teams for over 10 years, some in sports and some in business and in education. And the funny thing is, that they are not that different from each other. You can easily create groups or even teams, but to make them perform well is a lot harder. Here are some tips for building high-performance teams. The text has been inspired by Katzenbach & Smith – and by their book: Wisdom of Teams – Creating the High-Performance Organization.
To have a high-performing team, you need to have relatively small number of people, complementary skills, common purpose and specific performance goals, commonly agreed upon working approach and the people to be mutually accountable.
1. Small number (less than 12)
Teams can vary from 2 to 25. But the most productive teams are under 12, some researchers have even said that the most ideal team size is 4.6. When a team is too big, it will be a lot harder for them to develop a common purpose, goals and to be accountable to each other. In these situations, it might be a good idea to create smaller sub-teams to tackle performance goals. Most importantly though, the ideal team size changes depending on the task and team’s purpose.
“Even small groups of people fail to become teams on teamwork values alone.”
2. Complementary skills
When building a team, it’s important to think what kind of technical, functional and soft skills the team needs and build it based on those. Too often we build teams on personal compatibility or on their position at the organisation. The truth is that we are all different with a different set of skills, and the more diverse the team is, the better chance it has to come up with creative solutions.
If the team has been already created, it’s important that you identify what kind of skills the people have (my favourite tool for this is Belbin Team Roles) and then analyse what your team is missing. You can then either recruit other people with complementary skills or help the current members to develop skills that the team is lacking.
3. Common purpose
Common purpose is one of the most important elements for a high-performing team. By having a common meaningful purpose the team will have clear direction, motivation and commitment towards the goals.
Often people have misunderstood that the management team cannot take part in the process when shaping a common purpose, but this is not absolutely true. Managment can give out some guidelines, but they need to be flexible enough that the team can set their own specific goals, timing and approach. In the more entrepreneurial situation, the team can create their purpose entirely on their own.
“Groups that fail to become teams rarely develop a common purpose that they own and can translate into specific and accountable goals.”
4. Common set of specific performance goals
Having specific goals helps teams to get results. One simple way to create goals is to make them SMART. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. By following these rules the team have a much better chance of reaching them.
Importantly, the team’s performance goals need to be related to its purpose, as otherwise, the team members will be confused and they will fall apart and they won’t work towards the same aims.
“Ten years ago, few understood that performance challenge creates teams, not the desire to be a team.”
5. Commonly agreed upon working approach
How often should you meet? How will you communicate about the progress?
To build a high-performing team you need to be clear about the working approach. Regular team meetings are in the core, depending on the project/goals, the teams should meet between once a week to once a month. Between the meetings, it’s important to communicate about everything going on in the project. An example of a good tool for that is Trello. Trello is a task management tool that allows teams to plan and follow up the projects, and it’s also super easy and fun tool to use.
6. Mutually accountable
When the teams’ members are all committed to the goals and to the purpose, the environment will become more performance-driven. This creates mutual trust between the members, and because of this trust, people feel that they can challenge themselves more. They feel that they are mutually accountable to each other, so they want to learn more and deliver better results as they don’t want to let the others down.
What really distinguish normal teams from the high-performing ones are the shared leadership, personal commitment to another’s growth and successes, deeper sense of purpose and more ambitious performance goals. It might not be easy to establish, but it will definitely be worth it.
I hope these 6 steps will help you to create high-performing teams in your organisation! And please feel free to comment your thoughts or ask if you have any questions in relation to this topic.