Leadership · Team Building

What differentiates a high performance team from a regular team?

Meir Amarin Leadership style based on ability to motivate others

October 10th, 2015

In my opinion, and in one word: "commitment". Commitment can be achieved by focusing on four elements:

1. Setting clear mission and goals. Identifying specific, measurable, prioritized goals and deliverables linked to the business.

2. Setting clear roles and responsibilities, contributing required skills and resources for the team to accomplish its goals. 3. Identifying and agreeing on the procedures and approaches the team will use for getting its work done.

4. Building the necessary openness, trust, motivation and operating rhythm for a high performance team.

Winning team members are proud of the job they do!


Zohar Hirshfeld Sr. Director Business Operations, Product Globalization and Chief of Staff for Central Engineering

October 10th, 2015

I think what high performance teams do that regular teams don't do is to innovate and execute against those innovations. regular teams either innovate, but fail to properly execute and bring the innovation to light or can bring something to light for someone's else innovation.
My two cents is that commitment, conflict resolution, healthy engagement, etc are the means to get to be high performing, but they don't guarantee it. 

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

October 12th, 2015

There is a fundamental difference between a modern team and a 20th century one.

In the 19th century you scaled a business by adding people. People management was number one skill and people managers got the big bucks.

These "teams" were fear driven. Replaceable people doing defined jobs - "if you don't do your job correctly there's plenty more people out there who can!" And the companies were static - same thing today as yesterday, same thing tomorrow as today.

As mechanisation took away the menial jobs, this changed to "knowledge workers". People who were experts in their field and thus harder to manage - they were not easily replaceable and they knew it. 

Management responded with the team concept - do it because otherwise you will be stepping out of line and your team members won't like you. It forced a kind of collective responsibility, which the really irreplaceable people hated - having to drag a group of people with you, unable to choose or get rid of them.

No-one told HR (though they renamed them from personnel). HR still wrote fixed job specs and hired people in tick-box fashion with no thought of team fit.

And this was overlaid with the leadership and sales bulls**t of the time. Of the high performing team. Of goals and never giving up. Rocky, Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross - grade A cr*p.

Meanwhile everybody gathered into their own little teams - clustered around their worldview and sense of identity ("we're in marketing - we hate sales", "we're in production, we hate dispatch" etc.) into inward looking silos which meant the company was fighting itself, not working to build relationships.

Now a team is gathered around the data. In a good team the roles are fluid and people cover for eachother - if a team member is good at one thing, but not another, then someone else will take on that task. The team shares the same sense of urgency and of test, choose and re-test, rapidly iterating the initiative without letting ego (my idea must be right) get in the way. There is mutual respect for eachothers' capabilities and a programme to fill the skills gaps quickly and without blame.

This is about as far from the 20th century, sports centred "team" as can be. As it should be - all the teams held up as role models were ultimately failures and their rhetoric exposed as self-serving lies.

Joe Emison Chief Information Officer at Xceligent

October 10th, 2015

Some of these suggestions are necessary, but the collection of all of them is woefully insufficient.

Specifically, you could take a bunch of 12-year-olds (like a little league world series team) and they could meet all these criteria, but I doubt anyone would expect "high performance", at least as far as results that we would traditionally care about.

In addition to good processes and commitment to those processes, you need to have (a) people who actually understand how to follow the processes, (b) people who know how to use the processes in difficult circumstances, (c) people who can execute the plan you make, and (d) people who know how to adjust the plan with respect to changing circumstances.

Even more difficult is that it is incredibly hard to tell the difference between someone who talks a good game (and thinks they're capable of the above) and someone who actually plays a good game.

Heather Hollick Executive, Professional, Career, and Life Coach

October 10th, 2015

  1. Commitment to a bigger purpose. The team is striving for something bigger than itself. This can range from something as simple as beating a competitor, to something as grand as changing the world.
  2. Commitment to each other. The team wants to work together. The work to continuously improve how they work together.
  3. An ability to engage in health conflict. Alfred Sloan, who ran General Motors in the 1920's and '30's,  would refuse to make a decision at a meeting if no one could argue a strong case against what was being proposed. He felt that if no one had any objections to what was being decided, it was because they had not thought long and hard enough about the question under consideration.
  4. A willingness and ability to leverage the diversity of talent, perspectives, and skills on the team. Push everyone to bring their best work.

Steve Shapero Sr. Software Development Manager at Lending Club

October 12th, 2015

High-performing teams are permeated with total clarity of purpose. They have immediate short-term objectives that are clearly understood by all team members, and that are achievable. They have leadership that aggressively removes all bullshit that stands in the way of doing valuable work. The team reflexively is able to identify the next most valuable thing to be done without being told. Strong process adherence is a pretty good proxy indicator that you have curtailed the capability and potential of your team. Empowered teams figure out things on their own and report up on what they're doing. From an engineering or design point of view, they are focused only on the smallest subset of deliverables required to move the ball forward. In other words, they truly get that quality is a mindset and not a process or a generic checklist. Once you have that, commitment is just a thing that happens.

Michael Barnathan

October 16th, 2015

Building a high performance team is like reaching the highest levels of Dante's Paradiso: start by *not screwing up*.

Start with the right people, as has been stated. If your team has poor performers on them, they will drag everyone down. Don't be afraid to get rid of them. How do you identify the poor performers? Ask the good performers and see if a pattern emerges.

Now, right people doesn't necessarily mean super experienced. To paraphrase another post, right people have a "knack" for the field, an insight into how what they do affects the larger business, and a passion to reach those goals. The business focus means they are often opinionated and will push back on your agenda for various reasons. Treat this as an opportunity to review the agenda with a fresh set of eyes, as they might be right.

Got a good team? Next is not screwing them up with process. Throw a bunch of good developers into 10 hours of meetings every week and they won't perform no matter how good they are. Require five sign offs on every change and they're going to perform slowly.

Next, don't screw them up with poor management. Are their goals clear? Do they know what targets to hit? They might individually do a great job, but if you send them off on a wild goose chase, it won't help your business. Or if it's not clear what success looks like, what they deliver might not be what is needed. Changing goalposts will kill them too as there will be no predictability.

Next, don't screw them up with poor infrastructure. Fail to pay attention to your dev tooling / deployment / etc., and they might be the fastest, most efficient coders in the world, but they'll be waiting an hour twiddling their thumbs between each build. Your budget for developer infrastructure is actually part of your development budget.

With all of these things in place, now and only now can we start discussing the virtues that lead to higher performance:

The team should communicate well and cover for each other's weaknesses. The leader / most senior person on the team should have good communication skills with management, the ability to mentor more junior members, and should be looked up to by the rest of the team for his or her competency. The team should make decisions collaboratively, but with the team lead resolving stalemates so that the team doesn't get stuck in analysis paralysis. And perhaps the most important asset the team can have: their values should be aligned with high performance: delivering quality output, delighting customers, supporting each other, a sense of responsibility for what they build, and a growth mindset.

Clearly there are a lot of factors here that have to be nailed, which is why cultivating such a team is difficult. The most important items are likely the people, the culture, and clear communication from management - given enough freedom, a team of good people who feel a sense of responsibility to make things better and have a well-defined goal will often build up their own infrastructure and process to achieve that goal.

Andrea Mulligan

October 16th, 2015

I agree with some of the folks who have responded who have indicated that hiring the right people - people who are passionate about what they do, committed to the greater good of the company, and works independently and as a team to get the job down - is extremely important. 

That said, if that is all you do, but you don't have Meir Amarin says above. Clarity is key. If people don't understand the mission of the goals of the business AND their role in making it happen, even the best employees will fail. Many will just leave. Additionally, you need to provide open and honest feedback and provide people with an environment where they can learn and build in their skills while taking risks.

Lawrence Pizzi Creative Design Director, Co Founder at NYukCo Incubator

October 16th, 2015

My team and I have been classified as Very High Performance... when we just get the job on hand done.  What I think works for us is that we draw on each others' strengths, stay focused on the final goal, and keep communications and info flowing within our group so that any snag in the process can be worked out before it becomes anything bigger.  The group creates a synergy all it's own with every project... 
My team members always praise the fact that when mistakes are made we fix them and move on while other teams waist time and energy placing blame - they feel that they are truly equal, respected and appreciated.  Outsiders who have worked with my team have called us a cult.

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

October 10th, 2015

All these things are important for turning a regular team into a fully optimized team, for realizing the full potential of that team, but they don't necessarily result in a high performance team. If the team's potential is low to begin with, any optimization would do no more good than oiling a broken machine.

The real potential of a team is based on the people themselves. They have to a) love what they do, b) be extremely good at it, and c) have interpersonal chemistry with each other.

Once you have that, this team will probably outperform an average one even without all these tune-ups, or more precisely, they will tune-up themselves.

Jimmy Steal Emmis VP of Programming/Emmis National Digital Program Director/Power 106 Program Director

October 17th, 2015

Many great posts here. I would only add that once you have your strong team in place, it is important to invest the time in getting to know and understand each of your team members upbringings, values, motivations, and goals. 

Spending this time getting to know them gives you the opportunity to gain insights into their performance characteristics, both positive and negative, and allows you to be pro-active in managing them all fairly, yet not identically. The insights they provide you allow you to manage them in a more tailored fashion, which contributes to enhanced workflow and can even help your team's interactions be more friction free.