Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Characteristics of High Performing Teams

I've written previously about those times in my career when alignment of leadership and resources led to major achievements.   High performing teams are a pre-requisite to such achievement and here are a few characteristics of high performing teams I have worked with:

Domain expertise and an ability to execute assigned tasks are key to ensuring vision is turned into successful implementation.   My experience is that "A" players hire "A" players and "B" players hire "C" players.   This means that highly competent people surround themselves with skilled people because they do not feel intimated  by having subordinates or colleagues who are smarter, more talented, or more successful.   No member of a team can do everything, so having a group of smart people working together creates a sum greater than the parts.  On the other hand, incompetent people tend to hire even less competent people to shore up their own egos and self image.   Leaders need to be very careful when retaining marginally performing teams, because incompetent people hiring less competent people can get the organization in trouble very quickly.

As a rock climber, I know that my life depends upon the skill and decision making of my climbing partner.   No matter how good I am, a mistake by my partner could kill both of us.   Every day I think about my teams and ask if I would trust them to hold my rope.   A high performing team requires a level of trust and confidence that fosters a joy of collective achievement rather than fear of individual failure.   Creating an environment of trust has worked for me as a parent and is an essential part of a optimized team.

I realize that carrying mobile devices creates the burden of being connected 24 hours a day.   I do not inflict my own work schedule on any of my teams (my last true day off was in the summer of 1984).   However, creating a level of communication among team members that enables rapid escalation and resolution of issues is essential to high performance.   Teams should respect the need for time away but arrange coverage such that email, instant messaging, paging, phone calls, and web-based collaboration can be initiated at a moment's notice for resolution of complex issues that are often precipitated by circumstances beyond the control of the team.   Teams should create a level of transparency that keeps all members informed of current priorities, strategies, and challenges using blogs, wikis, and meetings (to the extent necessary).   Great communication reduces friction, enhances decision making, and reduces unnecessary work.

Highly functional team members are always there for each other.  No matter what happens, they do not throw their colleagues under the bus.  They give an early heads up when projects or staff members are in trouble.  They accelerate decision making by contributing positively to consensus building.   They respect hierarchical boundaries, escalating problems by collaborating with team leaders and managers.   The result is a team that is deeply loyal to its members rather than focused on highlighting the success of any one individual.

The Greater Good
In my trip to Japan, I discussed priority setting in the Japanese bureaucracy.   At times it appears that ministries set priorities based on sustaining their own power and authority.  Bureaus within ministries can set priorities in silos.   Rarely is the greater good for the country the driving force that unifies budgeting at every level.   Highly functional teams think about the overall goals of the organization and craft their plans around those activities which will create the greatest good for the greatest number.   There is not siloed thinking about resources, budgets, or achieving individual goals at the expense of team of goals.

High performing teams are hard to create and sustain, but when they happen, they are to be treasured.   There is nothing I will not do for my high performing teams.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting read on high performance teams.Not sure but I think they are rare and when they do occur, they have a very short existence and possibly a big reason for that is that is that people are generally overworked nowadays and with little consideration to individual wellness. It only takes one unhappy person to disrupt the entire team dynamic.