October 15

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8 Critical Factors for Leading High Performing Teams

8 critical factors for leading high performing teams

What is a High-Performing Team

High performing teams are the Holy Grail of organizations. Simply put, a high-performing team is one that can consistently provide quality results.

No matter the odds, no matter the obstacles, they get the work done. They are equipped to handle conflicts positively, while preserving the ability to work autonomously. 

They have “chemistry” — the kind that just seems right. They are also more productive, effective, and cost-effective. 

Think of them like the A-Team. 

But here’s the thing:

High-performing teams in organizations are not very common.

One study found that only “35 percent of senior executives from mid-sized organizations feel that the teams in their organizations are achieving their potential”.  

That’s a fairly small number, isn’t it?

Another study demonstrated that while 71 percent of the organizations said they thought high-performing had a positive impact on their organization, “34 percent of those same organizations said they do not have a strategy to improve team development”. Wow!

Despite knowing that high performing teams are beneficial, many organizations are not working towards creating them.

It’s upsetting because these organizations are just wasting their potential.

We want to change that.

When we work with executives and their organizations, our strategy is to take a multi-pronged approach to team development and engagement. 

what is high performing team

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Our process has helped organizations hit targets that they haven’t been able to hit in five years, within just 18 months!

If you would like to learn more, you can schedule a 30-minute strategy session and we can plan a solution specifically designed for your organizational needs.

Typically, all high-performing teams exhibit some common characteristics. According to EY, high-performing teams have:

  • Clear, achievable goals
  • A shared commitment
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • A sense of purpose
  • Clear processes and procedures
  • Joint accountability
  • A result-oriented approach

How Leadership And High Performance Are Linked

All of the above listed elements are directly related to the functions of team leaders. There is a correlation between strong leadership and high-performing teams.

Think about your own experience.

When your team leader was aloof or unpleasant, were you inclined to perform at a high level? 

I’m guessing not. 

However, when you have a good rapport with your supervisor, things are different. You are more likely to go above and beyond to perform better.

Leaders and followers create cultures that lead to high or low performing teams.

Leadership directly impacts a team’s overall productivity. 

In fact, The Ritz Carlton blog notes ” supervisors have a big impact on worker performance.” 

But we knew that already didn’t we?

Leaders who build better teams DO a few things that other leaders won’t do or don’t know to do.

Here are the things that YOU should do to make sure you’re leading a high-performance team.

1. Give Productive Feedback

Feedback is critical to improve your team’s performance. But the way you deliver it can make a world of difference.

On the other hand, criticism fails to deliver the intended message. In fact, it does the exact opposite. It might make your team feel irritated or miserable. 

One of my bosses in another career and lifetime would always tell me “Oh, you did great.” 

When pressed for more information on how I could improve, he would say, “I can’t think of anything.” This isn’t feedback, it’s a filler. It’s unhelpful because it made me think I was perfect at what I do.

But remember, there is always room for improvement.

Without positive, timely, and specific feedback, your team members won’t know how to up their game.

productive feedback

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Uncertainty is an energy drain for your organization as well as your team. Instead of leaving your team members in limbo, give them productive feedback and focus on what they did well and where they can improve.

Be careful and choose your words wisely. If you deliver feedback harshly, it can demotivate your team. In all circumstances, avoid making personal attacks. Constructive feedback is based on observations and is issue-centric.

If you want to learn how to deliver effective feedback that can improve your team’s performance, I’ve got a handy resource for you. 

You can check out my course on Giving Powerful Feedback.

2. Get To Know Your Team Members On an Individual Level


It can be easy to get lost in the sea of meetings at work. I get it — work can sometimes get all too-consuming. 

No seriously, I understand it. 

But you need to think beyond work. Everyone’s got a life outside of it. Get to know your team members on an individual level to build a rapport with them.

Have lunch with them and talk to them about their interests, hobbies, achievements, and more. These conversations can help you understand their needs, motivations, and ambitions. 

When I am invited for workshops and leadership training sessions, I am often asked how to motivate team members. 

The answer is simple — get to know them. 

Knowing them on an individual level will allow you to use motivational strategies that resonate with your employees. This, in turn, can help you develop a high-performance team.

3. Communicate Your Expectations Clearly


Communication shows up in almost every list of requirements for leading high-performance teams. 

Like giving feedback, it’s so simple and obvious. For that reason, it is often overlooked. 

But guess what?

There is no faster route to mistakes, misunderstandings, and missed deadlines than giving unclear instructions.

A common mistake is confusing brevity with clarity. You think that you can be brief in your task description because they “already understand” or “get it.” 

TEAM COMMUNICATION

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Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.

I’ve sat in boardrooms and in meetings and watched intelligent leaders under-communicate their expectations, requirements, and deadlines. 

When I point it out, the leaders often feel that they were being clear and their “shorthand” should have been understood. 

If you want your team to perform better, you need to communicate with them effectively.

For tips on better workplace communication, you can read my post on 4 Ways to Set Clear Expectations.

4. Work on Conflict Management


I talk about conflict a lot because it is a natural part of the human experience. Therefore, it is an integral part of the team experience as well.

Too often though, there’s unresolved conflict within teams, and that undermines high-performance. 

The thing is conflict doesn’t have to be toxic. Toxicity is a byproduct of negligent leadership. 

Most leaders are conflict-averse. They think that because they are working with adults, they will work things out. 

Let me be clear, they won’t work things out. 

If you want to lead high-performing teams, anticipate conflict and create a culture where it is discussed and dealt with, and not denied.

Foreseeing issues before they arise can help you be prepared to tackle them efficiently. If you want tips on how to handle conflicts in a healthy way, you can check out my post on this topic.

5. Listen to Your Team Members Intently

To lead a high-performing team, you don’t have to know all the answers right from the start. Trust your team to be able to resolve issues along the way. 

Your role is to provide the tools they need to succeed and nurture an open environment to exchange innovative ideas. Encourage them to share their input and listen intently to what they have to say. 

listen to your team

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Active listening is a super skill. I’ve also included it as one of the 7 Leadership Skills that will make you a better leader.

Remember, you don’t need to have an answer to everything. Instead, you should be willing to listen to your team and help them identify the answers. 

Giving all the answers is the greatest disservice you can do. In fact, it can stunt your team’s ability to solve their own problems over time.

6. Take The Blame And Share The Credit

In high-performance teams, blame game doesn’t play out. Instead, leaders step up to take their share of the responsibility and blame.

Have you heard the term “top cover”?

I learned the term when I was conducting leadership training with the military. In our context, it’s the idea that good leaders handle the heat from their supervisors without throwing members of their team under the bus.

This one is difficult for a number of reasons, but it’s extremely crucial for the team to be emboldened to try new things and take risks. 

When you’re leading a high-performance team, you should be willing to absorb the criticism and blame. 

Similarly, when things are going well, share the credit with your team. This, often free recognition can reinforce the value they add to the team and motivate them to deliver their best.

To learn more about leading high-performance teams, check out my course on the same.

7. Leverage Accountability


From my experience, accountability is a high-performance litmus test. It is a leading indicator of high-performance. 

The onus to create accountability rests on the leadership. Only then will the team members follow their footsteps.

When you increase accountability consistently across your team, you will see a few things occur: some will balk, some will step up, and some will leave. 

But when done correctly, accountability shines a bright spotlight that no one, including yourself, can hide from.

So, make sure that you not only promote accountability but practice it yourself. 

To learn how to get results with positive accountability, check out my course.

8. Celebrate Your Team’s Victories

There’s a reason that sports have scoring systems and clear paths to victory: touchdowns, baskets, goals, etc. 

What’s the reason, you ask?

That reason is that people love to win. It gives them a sense of achievement.

To amplify this feeling,  wins should be followed by celebrations. 

celebrate victories

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I’m not saying you need to have a grand parade when you finish your project, but I am saying that you should celebrate the milestones. 

A special word of appreciation, a team lunch, a bonus — all of them can work wonders in boosting your team’s motivation.

Celebrating small victories is a great way to push your team to work harder to achieve bigger goals. 

It also gives your team a chance to acknowledge the progress they’ve made, recognize everyone’s contribution, and recharge for the next phase of the journey. 

Because of this, high-performing teams give a lot of importance to celebrations.

We’ve discussed several critical elements to leading high-performing teams. Following the advice outlined above, you can lead consistently high-performing teams. 

Want to improve your team bonding and boost their performance? Get David to work with them. You can contact him here.

Key Ideas

  • Leadership has a tremendous impact on team performance.
  • Leading high-performance teams requires specific leadership skills and behaviors.
  • You can lead high performing teams by listening, handling conflict, promoting accountability, celebrating victories, and giving good feedback.

Dr. David Arrington

About the author

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

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