I often get asked what makes up a high-performing team and how do I build one.
As leaders, we all aspire to build a high-performing team. We want our peers and boss to perceive our team as high performing. We want our team to not be just an average team but be a team others aspire to join and a team that delivers extraordinary business results.
We know there is a lot at stake. We know team performance is an indicator of how well we are doing as leaders. We know it reflects engagement, efficiency, productivity and other aspects that make a great team. Getting this right, building a high-performing team, can make or break us a leader, but what does such a team look like and how do I intentionally build one?
I have spent years working on the answers to those question. I have led teams of all sizes and across most functions within an organization. I have learned through trial and error (a lot of errors) and iterated my way to the model I share below. Building a high-performing team requires time and effort. There has to be an intentional investment and cultivation of the team because extraordinary teams do not happen on accident.
At the foundation of every high-performing team are two commitments. This is where I always start, and I can discern a great, good or bad team based on how the leader is doing cultivating and driving these two things. Without these, your efforts to build a high-performing team will be straight uphill, challenging and most likely impossible.
The two foundational aspects of high-performing teams are Clarity and Trust.
“Trust and Clarity are the foundation of every high-performing team”
Your team needs clarity from their leader. They need for you to remove the ambiguity that leads to confusion or misalignment and commit to the continuous driving of more and more clarity. If your team is confused, you will lose. You will lose them and you will lose in your pursuit to build a high-performing team. I have never met a team that was extraordinary but unclear.
So, what does clarity look like and where do I start? Here are a few aspects where the leader needs to drive clarity. Use this to check yourself and do a quick leadership inventory. Ask your team about these areas and how they feel about clarity. They will give you a great indication of how things are going.
• Clarity of vision and purpose
• Clarity of each person’s personal connection and contribution to the vision
• Clarity of strategy and direction
• Clarity of expectations — performance, behavioral, culture
• Clarity of the BIG WIN — Success Definition
• Clarity of Today’s WIN — What’s Important Now
• Clear on where each person stands regarding performance — Healthy feedback conversations
• Clarity of roles and expectations
• Clear path to get work done effectively and efficiently
There are others but these give you an idea of how important clarity is. Think about that list and the impacts if your team is confused or unclear. The implications are significant. That is why clarity is at the foundation of every high-performing team.
Reality is, we follow clarity. Clarity is magnetic. Clarity results in influence, which is the essence of leadership. Clarity helps leaders articulate their “why” so they can then turn attention to the “what” and “how”.
Start with Vision — The “Why”. Have you articulated a vision of what “could be”? Vision needs to be repeated regularly so it sticks and people can understand it well enough to see how they fit into the bigger picture. They can then make an informed decision to get on or off your bus.
“A vision not frequently discussed is a vision quickly forgotten.”
I love this quote from Andy Stanley. He says,
“As a leader, you rarely have certainty, but you should always have clarity.” Start today to mine your team to see where a little clarity might go a long way towards aligning your team for ultra-success.”
Trust is the second core component at the foundation of every high-performing team. If trust is absent, good luck. I have never met a team that performed at extraordinary levels but did not trust each other. I think that is impossible.
Trust is about creating a safe environment where people on your team feel they can bring their best selves to work every day.
Trust is confidence that people believe your and their teammate’s intentions are good and they work in a safe environment.
Trust breeds an environment of vulnerability where people feel safe that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them in the future
When a team operates in an environment where trust is present and prominent, they look like this:
• They can admit weaknesses
• Ask for help
• Accept challenges or questions about the areas they own
• Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion (Trust vs. Suspicion)
• Offer feedback and assistance
• Allow the best ideas to win
• Focus time and energy on important issues vs. politics and seek to understand the humans they are working with
The opposite is true when teams do not trust each other. Take the opposite of the list above and ask yourself if that is a team you would want to work on. I already know the answer. It is a big NO.
Here are some additional attributes of what it looks like to invest is cultivating trust within your team.
• Create a safe environment where people feel they can bring their best selves every day
• The team shares ideas and believe other’s intentions are good — They create more and consume less
• There is a high level of emotional intelligence — Adapt behaviors to bring out the best in their teammates — Empathy
• Strengths-based environment
• Deliver results together — No silos
• The best idea wins and a growth mindset persists
• Personal accountability and extreme ownership define the team
• Teammates have each other’s back
• Great performance is recognized and rewarded
This quote from Reggie McNeal sums up nicely how trust is a critical leadership strategy.
“Teams use trust as currency. If it is in short supply, then the team is poor. If trust abounds, the members of the team have purchase power with each other to access each other’s gifts, talents, energy, creativity and love. The development of trust then becomes a significant leadership strategy. Trust creates the load limits on the relationship bridges among team members.”
Trust and clarity are the building blocks of high-performing teams. They are the DNA and you need both. Focus your attention on driving actions that increase clarity and cultivate trust. On this foundation you will be able to build the type of team you want to lead and want to participate on.
Here are two questions you can ask to help with your self-assessment regarding clarity and trust.
Clarity — Are people on your team clear on what success looks like, how success will be measured and how you are doing moving towards success?
Trust — Do people on my team feel safe to bring their best self to work every day? Do they trust you and trust each other?
Here is a short YouTube video I created to add more color to the importance of trust and clarity — Video Link