High performing teams have a number of characteristics and undertake activities that help them to stand above the rest.
Here are 10 key characteristics that can play a big part in their success.
1. They have a shared understanding of the direction they are heading
High performing teams have a shared vision. The vision isn’t just created by the team leader, but by the team itself.
The team are also are clear on the parameters within which to operate. These can include quality standards, operating practices and principles.
As an example, in the digital development space, teams have a shared document that lists the devices and browsers
applications need to be tested on as well as the process work needs to go through to ensure quality standards are met. This is also reviewed by the whole team on a regular basis.
Outside of the development world, this could be in the form of a pledge drawn up by the team that outlines values and principles the team will continually measure themselves and their decision making against.
If a team does not know where they are going and the parameters with which to operate within they are likely to become demoralized and disengaged. They are also likely to struggle to deliver significant value to the customer or the company.
- Does your team have a shared vision?
- Does your team have an agreed set of parameters within to operate and measure value against
2. They focus on outcomes not outputs
If teams focus on outputs (volume) and measure success against that, that is where their energy will go. They are unlikely to pay enough attention to the outcomes (value) they are or are not delivering.
They run the risk of potentially wasting their time and company money.
It is also easy for underperforming teams to hide behind “busyness”, processes, planning, charts, paperwork, documentation and endless meetings. Very little of this, if anything of that nature rarely delivers any value to the customer or the company.
We can spend months talking about something, theorising, writing about it, debating it, but unless we actually do something and take action – value can’t be delivered.
- Does this activity I/we are about to do make a difference to the customer, what problem does it solve for them?
- Is there something else we could be doing that would deliver more value?
3. They have a safe environment
High performing teams work in a safe environment, both in terms of physical safety as well as psychological safety.
They feel safe to challenge opinions and assumptions. They appreciate each other’s experience and perspectives and don’t tolerate a blame culture.
Good leaders will encourage challenge and discussion from team members to their decisions and suggestions.
Their leader also follows a servant leader model.
- Do you feel safe at work both physically and psychologically?
- As a leader do you encourage your team to challenge assumptions and behaviour not aligned with your values and operating principles?
4. They deliver value continuously
In the digital space, Agile teams focus on delivering measurable value every few days by releasing products and services continuously that customers can actually use.
There’s a great quote from the Government Digital Service that encapsulates this: “The Strategy is Delivery”.
It is better to deliver something, no matter how small and imperfect and then build on it than to try and do something big bang that takes months and years before anyone can see any benefit.
To do this work needs to be broken down into small bite size chunks and continually reviewed.
- Can we break this task down into small bite size chunks and prioritise the highest value items first?
- Can I deliver value today, tomorrow or this week instead of unrealistically waiting for something to be perfect months down the line?
5. They can easily adapt
High performing teams can adapt to their environment and ever-changing customer needs.
They can also take advantage of opportunities to change their processes or adopt new ones that serve the customer better.
The ability to adapt can mean life and death for a company.
This means high performing teams need to be in touch constantly with the users of their services, but also have an eye on the horizon to see any new opportunities heading their way. They do this by testing assumptions and trying out new things as early as possible, getting feedback, adjusting, and moving forward.
- Are you fixed by “what you know”, and have always done, or are you willing to look up and see what opportunities are around you?
- Are you close enough to your customer to understand and learn about their changing needs?
6. They continually review their priorities
There will always be more work and opportunities than teams can ever deliver. High performing teams are able to ensure they are always working on the highest priority work that will deliver the best outcomes.
Prioritisation of work should be measured against the team’s agreed vision and parameters in order to deliver value to the customer. This is a powerful guide to ensure what they do next is the best use of their time.
If you are overwhelmed by choice, just pause, refer back to the vision and question the opportunities in front of you. Quite quickly an order will start to take shape.
The highest value items might not be the easiest. It’s important to resist the temptation to do lower value work because it’s easier.
- Is work continually reviewed and prioritised to ensure the highest value items are done first?
- Are the team and customers involved in the prioritisation process?
7. They can say no
High performing teams are able to say no to work that is unlikely to deliver valuable outcomes and is not as important than the work they currently have underway or planned.
They minimise work in progress as they recognise this enables higher quality outcomes and lowers the risk of failure.
They also realise this minimises the risk of team stress and protects wellbeing.
Overworked teams, aside from the health issues above, will tend to produce lots of low-value work, rather than less, high-value work. High performing teams understand the latter is preferable.
As part of saying no, they take a transparent approach and demonstrate why they are prioritising other work through open conversations.
- Does the leadership have those difficult conversations with customers and stakeholders?
- Does the team encourage transparency with stakeholders and have the trust to make the right decisions around prioritisation?
8. They collaborate
High performing teams embrace collaborative working with customers and colleagues alike.
Internally they realise everyone is on the same side and respect that other teams have their own priorities, sometimes that they don’t have awareness of. They don’t blame others, they work together for mutual benefit.
They don’t see themselves as depending on others, instead, they seek ways to work collaboratively with others toward a common goal (customer value).
- Do team have fair “service level agreements” between other teams and functions where they need to interact to deliver a service?
- Does the team see other teams as threats or allies?
9. They seek to continually improve
High performing teams regularly reflect on how they can improve.
They look at any blockers to achieving their objectives and work to remove them at the source, without letting them fester.
They look at previous experience and reflect, and without blame, on how they can do better.
They try our new ideas and evaluate their effectiveness step by step.
By recognising that a team will never be perfect, that they are fallible human beings, it is empowering. It helps morale, it helps wellbeing and it ultimately produces a higher functioning team.
Individuals within teams that are allowed 5 or 10% time every fortnight to develop themselves through learning and training outperform teams that spend 100% of their time working flat out. This investment in time can pay dividends down the line in team productivity through the introduction of new or enhanced skills.
In addition, the team members will be more motivated, bring fresh knowledge to the team and feel rewarded at work.
- Does the team get protected time to self-develop?
- Does the team understand the value of “failing to learn”?
10. They enjoy what they do
- Are the other 9 key elements in this post present within the team?
- Are the team visibly happy in the workplace with low staff turnover and minimal health issues?