What Are High Performing Teams?

The extent to which an organisation succeeds with innovation depends significantly on the quality of its teams and the effectiveness of its teamwork.

Developing and managing high performing teams is a key challenge for the organisation that wants to innovate. Although it is usually necessary to invest time and other resources to develop high performing innovation teams, such investments can deliver excellent returns in terms of profits from successful innovations.

One of the key characteristics of a poorly performing team is ‘wasted energy’. By contrast high performing teams are more aligned and therefore they waste less energy.

Team members in a high performing team sometimes speak of having a sense that they are ‘playing as one’ - as if they are a member say, of a group of jazz musicians.

Furthermore, this experience of working in a high performing team is often viewed as very positive – but at the same time hard to describe. Team members talk about how time seems to fly by, but a great deal is achieved. The team seems to have a ‘shared understanding’ and they get to a point of ‘just knowing’ what the team has to do - rather than feeling conflicted and team members ‘taking sides’.

Within organisations high performing teams have three critical dimensions:-

  1. The need to think insightfully about complex issues – tapping into the potential of the whole team so that there is more intelligence than just an individual mind.
  2. The need for innovative co-ordinated action.  In order to do this, there needs to be high levels of trust among team members. This trust enables team members to be confident that they will all act in ways that complement each other.
  3. The need to transfer the high performance from one team to another. A senior team usually has to rely on other teams to help deliver plans. Therefore it is vital that the senior team member, perhaps working as part of a high performing board, is able to spread the ability of high performance team working to others.

Key Skills Of High Performance Team Working

  1. Dialogue And Discussion.

    These are two distinct ways that high performing teams communicate.

    is a method of freely exploring complex issues and listening to other team members at a deep level.

    is when different views are presented and defended and there is a search for the ‘best view’ to support the type of decisions that the team needs to make.
  2. Inquiry And Reflection Skills

    Inquiry and Reflection are advanced interpersonal skills that enable teams to deal creatively with conflict that may arise and prevent it opposing productive dialogue and discussion.

    In an unproductive team, defensive routines may arise and drain the team’s energy. In a high performing team, team members can draw on techniques such as inquiry and reflection to release the defensive energy of conflict and channel it into productive dialogue and discussion.

    Inquiry and Reflection skills can also help team members to share their ‘mental models’ of the world and address limiting beliefs.
  3. Practice

    Just like the jazz ensemble mentioned above, or any theatre company. The only way to become a high performing team is through a continuous cycle of practice, performance and review.

Different Types Of Teams

Depending on the nature of the innovation project, different types of teams are more appropriate. Some examples are as follows:-

Functional Team

This type of team might be formed within any one function e.g. marketing, R&D, manufacturing, finance.

A functional team is most appropriate for simple innovation projects like continuous improvement or lean manufacturing. An example would be team working to optimise a manufacturing process.

Cross-functional Team

For the majority of innovation projects there is a need to draw on a broader range of skills – hence the need for cross-functional teams.

The diversity of the team members helps stimulate high levels of creativity at the idea generation stage. Furthermore at the implementation stage the cross-functional expertise is most likely to ensure that a feasible plan is developed.

Cross-functional teams are more likely to experience conflicts of interest than a functional team, therefore training the team in team working skills including conflict resolution can be helpful to equip team members for the project.

Directed Cross-functional Team

A directed cross-functional team ensures that there is the diversity of a cross-functional team, while ensuring that the issue of potential conflict is addressed by having a project director leading it. The project director takes authority over the rest of the team members and can help drive the project forward.

Autonomous Team

Autonomous teams offer the opportunity of bringing the spirit of entrepreneurship alive in what may be a fairly bureaucratic organisation.

They are particularly suited to projects where the organisation is trying to make a strategic move away from its core business – perhaps by commercialising a new technology, targeting a completely new target market or looking to access a completely new channel of distribution – or perhaps all of these things in combination.

Autonomous teams are sometimes called skunkworks. The phrase was coined by Lockheed in 1943 when they were trying to accelerate the design of a new jet fighter. The company did not want the teams of engineers to be stultified by the firm’s bureaucracy and the official R&D process.

Virtual Team

A virtual team can be created when the team members are not all located in the same place. Innovation projects can be run by virtual teams within one organisation, or a virtual team could be put together across several organisations. Usually in such cases, there would be one ‘lead organisation’ which takes overall responsibility for managing the project. Other team members would become involved when other skills are needed. These other team members would come from partner companies or other organisations – possibly universities.

Virtual teams face the same challenges as cross-functional teams along with the challenge of working together from different locations. The different members of a virtual team may be in different time zones, have different levels of knowledge of the primary language used within the business (non-native speakers) and may never have met before the innovation project begins.

New technologies including web 2.0 applications, social networking and presentation and data sharing applications mean virtual teams are increasingly well supported.

Achieving High Performance Teamwork

Although team working skills are frequently requested by employers, many employees have never received any team working training.  Team members may not understand much about what teamwork is and how they can best contribute effectively to constructive teamwork.

Successful conditions for team working are brought about by a combination of actions by the project manager and the organisation and also by the team members.

At the organisational level the right structures need to be in place to promote team working. This includes things like teamwork being recognised within the performance appraisal system and also in the reward and recognition package.

For the project manager issues like team design is a key responsibility. The project manager needs to be able to bring together the right blend of skills, experience, personalities in order to create a successful project team. Psychometric assessment tools such as Myers Briggs, Insights and Belbin can be helpful here.

For the individual team members, there is a need to understand what team working is. In a high performing team, the team members are aware of the attitudes and behaviours that help team working and those that hinder team working. A high performing team knows how to create a climate that is supportive of team working.

Specific skills in team working can be learned. Typical topics for such training would include gaining an understanding of what a team is and the importance of commitment to group goals and mutual trust.

Other topics might be defining the team’s purpose and the scope of team roles.

The team also needs process skills to help them with running meetings, creative thinking skills and project management skills.

Finally, all team members can benefit from advanced interpersonal skills training. This might include conflict resolution skills, communication skills and internal-selling skills.

High Performance Team Working: Business Benefits

The business benefits of high-performance team working are many and include the following:-

  • Increased productivity
  • Sustainable competitive advantage
  • Faster rate of innovation and better chance of successful innovation
  • Higher workforce morale

Why Choose Anatellô To Help You Develop High Performing Teams?

Anatellô consultants have a broad expertise in innovation. Many consultancies focus on the processes that are needed for innovation.  Anatellô can of course, provide you with proven innovation processes. However, we also view innovation as a human challenge and have the expertise to help you develop your people to innovate successfully.

Team working skills are a key part of developing your organisation so that you are ready to innovate.

We offer:-

  • Training in:-
  • Support to project managers who are tasked with putting together project teams. This might include undertaking psychometric profiling for you using Myers Briggs, Insights or Belbin tests.
  • Project start-up coaching for project managers and teams
  • Team coaching for boards and senior teams
  • Coaching for the project manager