Have you ever been on a project team that had everything going right? The team members all got along; they all had the right skills; everyone worked hard and pulled together to get the project done.

Those are just some of the characteristics of a high-performing team. High-performing teams can sometimes form by themselves, perhaps even in spite of a manager that gets in the way. However, it is more typical that a manager helps a team become high-performing and facilitates them through a process that leads to the team becoming as effective and efficient as possible.

For some managers, this journey is extremely difficult if not impossible. They may be very organized, technically strong, and masters of organizational politics, but they may not be very good people managers and not very effective at building a team. In some respects, it is also hard for a manager to guide a team toward high-performance if he was never part of a high-performing team. Reaching toward high-performance is almost a vision, and if you do not have a vision based on experience, it may be very difficult to guide a team of people there.

However, given the vision of the end result, a manager can help a team become high-performing. The following items can help facilitate the team’s growth.

Set common objectives. Teams will have a hard time performing at a high level unless they are all striving toward a common set of objectives. Even if members of your team do different jobs, a set of objectives can usually be written that will encompass all of them. If possible, the team should also be rewarded based on achieving this common set of objectives. This will assist in getting everyone pulling in the same direction.

Establish good internal work processes. It is true that you cannot build consistently good products, or deliver good services, with poor work processes. The high-performing team has a set of internal processes that guide how members act and react in particular circumstances. For instance, if problems arise, they know how to invoke problem-solving techniques. Another aspect of these teams is that they constantly look for ways to improve their current processes. A process that was perfect a year ago may not be perfect today. The team constantly challenges the current state and recommends changes for improvement.

Instill good work ethic. This probably goes without saying. High-performing teams rarely form in an environment where people complain about their workload or where team members complain about the work habits of other team members. High-performing teams find the challenges associated with their work and work hard to complete their assignments within expectations. Sometimes hard work gets confused with working a lot of hours. These are not the same things. A high-performance team works efficiently and works smart. Members get more work done in a typical day than their counterparts (in fact, a team that must pull late hours all the time probably has some problems with focus that might need to be addressed to get them out of that rut). On the other hand, the high-performing team understands when members need to pull together to achieve the project objectives, and sometimes that does require working many extra hours.

Keep everyone focused. The high-performance team is focused on the objectives and the deliverables, and understands how to achieve them. They don’t get sidetracked by rumors or politics. They don’t get absorbed in gossip. They don’t spend more time complaining than working. They know what is expected of them and do the best they can to meet those expectations.

Maintain a high level of motivation. The high-performance team identifies the challenges associated with meeting its objectives and completing its deliverables. This is both a self-motivation on the part of each team member as well as a reinforced motivation through the entire team.

Keep organized. Team members understand their role on the team and what everyone else’s role is as well. People understand the work they have on their plate today, as well as what the remainder of their work is. They understand the processes and procedures needed to run the team, including scope change management, risk management, issues management, quality management, and status reporting. If unusual events occur, they know how to manage the process and how to escalate when appropriate.

Strive toward a balanced set of key skills. A high-performance team has all of the skills needed to complete the work on its plate. Team members have the skills needed from a technical standpoint, as well as the right set of role-based skills. For instance, it is hard to be a high-performance team when everyone wants to be the Team Leader. If some of these “leaders” are asked to build deliverables instead, they may not have the right skills or the right motivation for the team to be successful. If short-term skill sets are missing, then the appropriate skills are brought in from outside resources if needed. If the skill will be needed on the team in the long-term, team members receive the training necessary to perform the work in the future. In a high-performing team, people understand their strengths and weaknesses, but they also are willing to work outside their comfort area when needed.

Foster mutual respect. Members of high-performance teams typically get along with each other. They have mutual respect for each other and trust that the others are working as hard as they are. They assist other team members when they are in need and understand that team members will do the same for them if needed. In general, team members are even-tempered and not prone to high ecstasy or depression. The team members respect each other’s abilities as well as help compensate for any weaknesses, since they know others are compensating for their weaknesses as well.

In the right circumstances, a manager can take the lead to move a team toward high-performance status. It takes time and in many cases the results will be disappointing. If it were easy, every team would be high performing, instead of the one or two that you may have worked on in your entire career.

Similar Topics