Seven Characteristics of High-Performing Teams

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Saphia Lanier
Saphia Lanier

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What do the New Zealand All Blacks, Apollo 13 mission, and surgical teams have in common?

Characteristics of high performing teams

They’re all high-performing teams with qualified and well-rounded individuals who work together.

But talent and experience aren’t the only reasons they perform well. Other traits naturally drive performance in such teams.

Knowing what makes a high-performing team can be the difference between success and failure for businesses. 

What is a high-performing team?

A high-performing team is a tight-knit group of talented individuals with specific roles, well-defined skills, and specialized expertise who collaborate, innovate, and deliver consistently superior results.

Many elements of high-performing teams contribute to their success. For example, committing to a common goal or purpose, pursuing performance excellence through cross-department collaboration, open communication, and accountability can all be important building blocks.

Seven characteristics of high-performing teams

While innovative talent leaders have been investing in teams to increase well-being and performance, challenges like the Great Resignation and a looming recession leave organizations with a lot to contend with.

If you want to build successful teams, model yours after these characteristics.

1. Shared goals and purpose

A high-performing team is committed to achieving a common goal or purpose, and to work as a group. 

Its members have clearly defined roles, and know why they do their jobs and how to do them, with no confusion about their respective responsibilities. Everyone plays a part in the team’s overall success. This maximizes productivity, reduces conflict, and boosts team morale.

Plus, they understand and support the team’s vision, mission, and key milestones, and how their roles and tasks accomplish their individual and team goals. 

2. Talent, skill, and strong work ethic

Individuals in high-performing teams are recruited for their exceptional talent and skill sets. They exhibit self-drive and a strong work ethic, allowing them to consistently perform well at their jobs.

Members of a high-performing team also have mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and exercise candor at individual and group levels. 

They complement each other and are appreciative of what each member brings to the table. They are accountable and hold each other accountable to deliver on team commitments.

3. Effective leadership

Outstanding teams are led by managers who maintain the group’s standards and goals, and ensure objectives are relevant and meaningful. The leaders build deep trust between team members and foster commitment and confidence, while ensuring everyone continually improves in their roles.

Team leaders run regular reviews and invest in data collection and analytics to make effective decisions. They leverage data to build on what they’ve done and improve on what they do.

Besides leading by example, high-performing team leaders actively resolve any issue that hinders team performance and celebrate members’ wins without seeking or taking credit themselves.

4. Open communication and conflict management

Open communication focuses on coaching and addressing issues openly and candidly. By keeping communication lines open, high-performing leaders can manage internal conflicts and motivate its members to do more together.

Members of high-performing teams are honest with each other without worrying about retaliation. This allows them to be open to constructive feedback without feeling attacked. Transparency also enables all team members to feel comfortable taking risks and sharing any conflict or challenge. 

High-performing teams have a system for optimizing communication. They use technology to organize and share their work, and make sure everyone can track project progress and ask questions when needed. 

Team members may not always agree with one another, but they know when to agree to disagree. They also embrace each other’s ideas respectfully — every idea or suggestion is valid and members don’t rely on a single person to deliver results.  

They also anticipate conflict and put processes in place to find a resolution.

5. Delegated power and empowerment

In high-performing teams, decision-making powers are shared — not centered around a few leaders. This allows managers to delegate effectively, and for team members to feel more recognized and appreciated. This increases team morale and encourages members to play to their strengths.

For example, at Zappos, leadership distributes authority across circles (self-organized teams) within the company. Instead of the traditional top-down management hierarchy where leaders authorize each decision, the teams closest to the work make the call. This makes it faster to tackle new opportunities and threats.

Zappos has guardrails to limit what people can do in their circles. For instance, only authorized people can sign legal contracts on the company’s behalf.

6. Clear operating rules

A high-performance team follows a clear set of operating rules, norms, and standards to measure and improve team performance. 

Examples of group norms include open lines of communication, respect, peaceful conflict resolution, and regular performance evaluation.

The team members discuss, agree to, and uphold the norms and standards.

7. Intrinsic motivators

Monetary and non-monetary investments encourage high performance and can complement organizational goals.

Pay transparency, bias reduction, performance pay, and other programs employees care about provide the greatest impact on performance. Investing in these areas can also positively impact employee engagement and retention.

A 2020 Global Talent Trends report found a strong link between employee experience and business impact. From the report, companies that rated highly on compensation and benefits saw 56% lower attrition.

Similarly, a 2023 State of People Strategy report shows 67% of employees want pay transparency, but not all companies are implementing it.

However, embracing policies like pay transparency and diversity initiatives allow everyone to feel included, and to have hope that they can grow and thrive in their roles. 

Tips for building a high-performing team in your organization

Building a high-performing team is no simple feat. Integrating a shared goal, team values, and a strong team culture across your organization takes a concerted effort.

Here are some tips to get started: 

  • Communicate the “why” of what you’re doing and what you’re asking others to do. 
  • Encourage different voices and viewpoints from diverse internal and external sources — to remove groupthink and enhance decision-making.
  • Leverage data to make decisions and take action as necessary.
  • Use technology to enhance how your teams meet, collaborate, and make decisions together. 
  • Make time to celebrate successes. Reflect on, and take action against challenges.
  • Build a feedback culture where your team members can regularly share constructive feedback.
  • Invest time and resources to build trust with your team, including team-building activities and social hours. 
  • Maintaining open lines of communication so team members know they can come to you for support or assistance, and understand where to get updates or clarifications. 
  • Offer professional guidance when members hit roadblocks. Address skills gaps on your team by offering resources like workshops or online courses.
  • Show your team how their work supports the company’s overall mission and goals to create a shared sense of purpose.
  • Set measurable goals your team should work toward individually or collectively.
  • Pair in-office and remote team members on projects to encourage constant teamwork and strengthen the team bond.

You’ve likely put in a lot of time, money, and effort recruiting talented people — but that alone won’t result in high performance across the organization. To assemble a high-performing team, continually invest in understanding employees' values, and make strengthening relationships a priority for your organization. 

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