The words “teams” and especially “high-performance teams” get thrown around a lot. Most teams are not nearly as effective as they could be. Many are even what I would call dysfunctional. In years of working with different teams worldwide, I have uncovered a pattern of what I believe are six fundamental things that every team, especially a high-performance team, must have.
The first is a truly clear shared vision. The team must know exactly why they exist and the goal they are tasked to achieve. Are they supposed to finish a project? Be a creative, innovative team to come up with new ideas? Are they a decision-making team? They need to understand deeply why the team was put together, and the unique skill sets on the team that will allow them to achieve the vision.
Number two is binary goals. For a team to be effective, it must have specific goals. No ambiguity. It is black or white, one or zero, you achieved the goal, or you didn’t. No guessing.
Number three is competence. I want to get extremely competent people on my team. That doesn’t mean everybody has to be a super genius and have degrees from three different Ivy League schools. It means that you want someone spectacular for the position they have on the team. They might not know anything about another area but combined you have created a group with all the necessary skills to achieve what the team needs to. It’s clear to see that “A” players only want to be on a team with other “A” players. It is also important to remember that it takes a team to win a championship.
Next, number four is communication. The key idea around this is what I call “robust” communication. This is about transparency, candor, and psychological safety. If you want a high-performance team, you must have a high level of trust so that people can be vulnerable. They can speak with candor. They can share the information they need to without fear of retribution, being made fun of, or being attacked. It is essential that the team create a space for safe communication. One of my favorite phrases is, “people are safe, ideas are not.” It is the job of the team to push hard to come up with the best ideas possible without ever pushing other team members around.
Number five is personal and mutual accountability. Now, we will see why binary goals are so important. When you have a clear vision of what the team is supposed to do and exactly how it will be measured, it lays the foundation for high levels of accountability. I understand what I should do and can hold myself accountable for delivering my goals. If someone else on the team is slipping, I can keep them accountable without it seeming like an attack. It’s not you against them. It’s the two of you trying to achieve the binary goal together. No politics, no personality, no favoritism. It’s just data. You either achieved the goal, or you didn’t.
And finally, number six is celebration. Great teams work hard together and take the time to celebrate wins both big and small. They go out of their way to give each other sincere praise when a teammate delivers superior work. Going hand-in-hand with high levels of accountability, consistent praise creates an atmosphere of camaraderie.
So, look around your organization and see if your teams meet these six criteria for high-performance teams.
- A clear shared vision.
- Specific and binary measurements
- Highly competent people in complementary ways
- Great communication. Transparent, robust, and continuous.
- High levels of both personal and mutual accountability.
- Frequent celebration.