21 Mar

High performance teams – just another fad?

“Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!” – Andrew Carnegie

The term ‘High Performance Team’ has been around for a while now, but is it just another corporate phrase or organisational fad?

Actually, if you peel back the ‘High Performance Team’ (HPT) label by changing the very important looking title case (i.e. getting rid of the capital letters for each word) you have something that has been around since caveman times!

In the early ages of man, teams formed into what we might call family groups, or tribes. These groups were formed out of the necessity associated with survival. A team that had a common purpose, shared their strengths and tolerated differences would be more likely to obtain food, ward off attackers and raise healthy offspring. High performing teams were born!

In the corporate world, there is indeed still ‘survival of the fittest’ at play. A team that operates effectively, collaborates well with  stakeholders and delivers results is likely to be a team that achieves reward, combats competitive threats and develops competent team members. This type of team will generally have what we have referred to in previous posts as team SPARK. The team will have positive energy and satisfied members. The benefits of such a team are many – lower disgruntled turnover, fewer sick days, higher career progression rates, stronger company wide interaction, increased efficiency and ultimately greater business returns.

So what’s important in creating a high performance team? Firstly, there must be consistent help from the team leader or coach. At the micro level, teams that are  performing will generally have a manager or team leader with excellent leadership qualities (never fear, many of these can be learnt!). At the macro level, organisations with a large set of high performing teams will have a strong leadership team and company head.

Leaders of high performance teams (whether departmental or cross-functional) coach their team members individually and collectively to engage their passions, leverage their strengths and inspire outcomes. They communicate effectively with their team and deliver and seek feedback. These leaders are clear on objectives and facilitate achievement.

The second important factor in creating a high performance team is to have a process to follow. Now this is not “a process for the sake of it”.  A process is simply a structure or model that breaks down the key milestones a team must go through towards high performance. You have to start somewhere to get the team to that ‘wow’ phase of super achievement. And even when you get there, you will have to revisit the milestones if there is an impacting challenge or if new members join the team. A process provides the framework and language around which the team can develop.

There are many HPT models out there and all have their merits. One very good model is the Drexler-Sibbert Team Performance™ Model. This is a well structured and supported model that can be used alone or with team diagnostics. The model moves through time from creating to sustaining. There are 7 milestones or phases – Orientation, Trust Building, Goal Clarification, Committment, Implementation, High Performance and Renewal (Team Performance Model Overview, The Grove Consultants International)

Whatever framework you use to help the development of your team, the third important element is to recognise time. This is an evolving process and one that will change its focus as new challenges and opportunities emerge. The team must know what they are aiming towards (their shared purpose) and that it will take time, patience and willingness to achieve high performance team status. As a manager, coach or external facilitator you must ensure the team is supported and encouraged towards their ultimate goal.

So, to create a high performance team, there are three key factors to help you get started:

  • Leadership
  • Recognised milestones
  • Time

Developing and working with a High Performance Team is rewarding and motivating. From cavemen to corporates, the benefits are worth the time and energy to get there.

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