No team sets out to be average. But only a few end up being high-performing. That’s because it requires incredible synergy and a perfect storm of several factors to deliver outstanding performance as a group.
“A high-performance team is a group of remarkable people who are highly intelligent, highly passionate about what they’re doing, and have a high sense of integrity, who are working together towards a common goal,” describes Phillip Lew, the founder and CEO of C9 Staff, a boutique remote staffing solutions company. “A high-performance team goes beyond merely achieving KPIs. Instead, they are focused on results that will further elevate the quality and productivity of the entire team.”
“Since people get work done through collaborating with others, what separates high-performing teams from others is the quality of their relationships with each other,” adds Core Strength’s founder and principal, Tim Scudder, who has spent most of his professional life studying and teaching about personality and working relationships.
Here are nine things high-performing teams do differently. Embrace these habits and guiding principles with your teammates, persevere through periods of trial and error, and let the magic unfold.
1. They have a shared purpose and invest in collaborating.
In a high-performing team, members agree on a goal, and agree that the only way to achieve the goal is to work together, says Janice Booth, leadership expert and CEO of The Teambuilding KIT, a series of programs and workshops that helps teams and individuals become better communicators in the workplace.
According to her, there are three characteristics that differentiate high-performance teams from the rest:
- They have an understanding that they share fundamentally compatible goals in the long run.
- They desire and aspire to have a more effective working relationship, and are willing to put in the work to achieve it.
- They trust each other and always operate on the assumption of positive intent when interacting with each other.
2. They cultivate a sense of psychological safety.
Psychological safety is also key: “The most important factor that sets high-performing teams apart is their sense of psychological safety. When the entire spectrum of team members can safely speak up without fear of embarrassment, this dynamic consistently leads to smarter team decisions,” says Scudder.
3. They strive for excellence.
There is another thing that seems obvious but matters a lot. You don’t get high performance without aiming for… high performance. It sounds simple, but it requires a relentless dedication to push your limits and continuously improve.
“High-performance teams avoid mediocrity and avoid settling for ‘good enough.’ With a culture of excellence in place, a high-performance team always strives for the best even if it means building a wall one brick at a time,” says Lew.
Sounds overwhelming? Lew recommends taking it one moment at time. “Focus on having a good Monday. Don’t think about the whole week. Just work on having a productive Monday. Then do it again tomorrow – focus on having a good Tuesday. Before you know it, you have a super productive week.”
4. They know each other super well.
In order to achieve synergy, members of a high-performance team know that they have to understand each other, adapt to each other, and leverage each other’s strengths. This is perhaps one of the most challenging things to master, but it makes a huge difference.
“Learning about each other is key: How do my colleagues view problems? How do they problem-solve? What is their approach? How do they process information and how long does it take them? How will they best hear what I’m trying to say to them?” explains Booth.
“High-performance teams understand that each person has their own approach to the work, deadlines, creativity, vision, etc., and that if those talents and gifts can be collectively leveraged, the end result will be much more impactful.”
5. They practice open communication.
Plus, when you know each other well, communication flows better. And communication is another critical pillar of achieving excellent performance as a group.
“I believe the key to a truly high-performing team is communication. Top management needs to communicate company goals to the employees, employees need to communicate to top management what they need to accomplish the goals, and each member needs to communicate with one another about how they can support each other until the goals are achieved,” says Lew.
6. They embrace disagreements.
But not all communication is harmonious. And the best teams embrace disagreements and turn them into opportunities.
“High-performance teams avoid false agreements for the sake of harmony. Instead, they share opposing views and even encourage them in order to see issues from multiple perspectives,” says Scudder.
7. They avoid silos.
There are also things high-performance teams avoid at all costs. One of them is operating in silos, says Booth:
“High-performance teams avoid silos, they avoid rogue-ism, they avoid avoiding – in other words, if there are issues, high-performing teams address them immediately and with respect.”
8. They prioritize collective success and share appreciation.
It makes sense then to prioritize collective success over individual wins. And to share an appreciation for each other instead of ruthless competition.
“High-performance teams avoid placing individual success before the teams. When a team is rife with ambitious, high-achievers who all seem to do their own thing, there is almost no sharing of ideas or best practices. Some people may thrive with a ‘survival of the fittest mentality, but others find it exhausting and unsustainable,” says Scudder.
According to him, high-performance teams give and receive appreciation at least twice as frequently as criticism, so that’s a rule of thumb you can easily remember.
9. They bond outside of work.
Finally, the most tight-knit teams are the ones who work the best together, so it’s no surprise that the highest-performance groups tend to bond outside of work and don’t stick strictly to a business mindset.
“High-performance teams connect with each other over non-work topics. They know about each other’s personal interests and bond with each other over shared interests outside of the workplace,” adds Scudder.