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All organisations are made up of teams. The performance of these teams influences the overall success of a business. This is the case in both small startups and large multinational organisations.
In this article, we’ll look at what makes a high-performing team, as well as explore practical steps your business can take to build high-performing teams.
High-performing teams are those that achieve better business results when compared to similar groups.
They generally perform as more than the sum of their parts. Several studies, including those from Google and MIT, suggest that in high-performing teams, the ability or performance of the individuals within the group is of secondary importance to other
Identifying the characteristics of high-performing teams to improve the productivity of
groups in their organisation is a priority for many managers. Here is a look at what makes a high-performing team.
The points below are some of the most important factors that studies have found can impact a team’s performance.
While there are only four categories—communication, composition, having a plan, and psychologically safety—each one includes several points for managers to consider.
For example, communication covers not only encouraging communication but encouraging a specific type of communication. Having a plan includes not only setting goals and measuring them but building a strategy to achieve these goals and clarifying the role
of each team member.
In a study that explored why some teams outperformed others, MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory found that the key to high-performance
was in the way teams communicate.
Additionally, the study found that patterns of communication were not only the most important predictor of a team’s success but were as significant as all the other factors the study looked at combined.
These other factors included the intelligence of the individuals in the team, their personality, their skill, and the content of their discussions.
The researchers identified three aspects of communication they found were crucial to team performance. These were:
The question, then, is how to encourage teams to communicate in the way defined above. The study highlighted several actions companies had taken that had produced positive results.
According to McKinsey, the size of a team can affect how well it performs.
The consultancy firm found that having fewer than six members in a team could result in poor and slow decision making due to a lack of diversity and bandwidth. On the other hand, a team’s performance begins to worsen once it gets beyond ten members
as the larger size encourages sub-teams and divisive behaviour.
McKinsey also suggests that when creating teams, managers should consider whether the skills and attitudes of team members are complementary.
The consultancy firm isn’t the only organisation to cite size as a predictor of the performance of teams.
In a survey of over 100 senior executives from across America, ThinkWise found that small teams— those with
less than ten members—outperformed the average score in all but two of the indicators of high-performance teams.
Medium teams with ten to fifty members outperformed the average score in two categories. Teams with over fifty members outperformed the average in just a single category.
The ThinkWise study also provided an interesting insight into the traits of high-performing teams. The most significant difference in these metrics came in communication, corroborating what MIT found.
However, the second was that high-performing teams keep commitments. This combines with other traits such as having a sense of direction and purpose to suggest that high-performing teams have a clear understanding of objectives and a path to achieving
The New York Times agrees. In an article, the newspaper singled out, making a plan as one of the top insights for how to lay
the groundwork of a highly productive team.
Specifically, the newspaper pointed to the importance of:
Google (more on their study below) also found that structural clarity—defined as clarity of the team’s roles, plans, and goals—was important.
In 2012, Google began to study hundreds of teams within the organisation in an attempt to find out
why some groups were more successful than others.
After spending years running models to define which traits impacted the effectiveness of a team, it found that the number one metric was psychological safety. This was followed by dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.
According to the report, psychological safety refers to “the individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk.”
Teams in which members feel psychologically safe are those where the members are confident when it comes to asking questions, making suggestions, or admitting mistakes.
In terms of fostering psychological safety, Google pointed to research by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson, who suggests “Framing work as a learning problem, not an execution problem, acknowledging your own fallibility, and modelling curiosity and
The above four factors are many of the traits high-performing teams display. Managers looking to improve the performance of their teams should look to introduce ways of encouraging that type of behaviour with their own teams.
To learn more about working better, check out our articles on improving communication in teams and
increasing productivity at work.
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