Developing high performance teams

Studies of high performing teams, typically identify characteristics such as:

  1. A unity of purpose and well-defined goals
  2. A commitment to understanding the process – how the group works
  3. An informal atmosphere and lots of discussion
  4. People discuss their feelings as well as their ideas
  5. Disagreements are welcomed and the team is not afraid of conflict
  6. Everyone pulls their weight
  7. The leadership of the group is shared. 1

When working with a team, as part of the early climate setting activities, I often invite the team to reflect on these characteristics and rate themselves against each item.  I’ve found this always generates an energetic discussion and provides the team with a “quick and dirty” profile on how they are performing as a team and where they could do better.  The task continues on to what they want to commit to doing to develop their collective skills in those areas where they have identified they could do better.

What sort of team do you want to be?

The above exercise dovetails nicely into a discussion of ground-rules. Characteristic # 2 on the list makes the link explicit. High performing teams are “self-conscious” of their process; they want to know how the group works and how it can be more effective. This commitment includes a commitment to their ground rules – the set of rules, or norms of behaviour, that the team agrees to observe in order to be effective in the session – to make better decisions, to achieve their goals for the session, and to enjoy the work.

So, if your discussion of ground rules with a team follows the review of high performing teams you can frame the question accordingly:

“Given our discussion of the characteristics of high performing teams, and your plan to work on developing your skills in order to be a more effective team, what ground rules do you think will be helpful for today’s session?

Contextualising the discussion of ground rules this way adds weight to the identification of those basic ground rules that all teams need to observe to be productive – things like “one person speaks at a time” and “respecting different views within the group” (and even “returning from breaks on time”!).

And importantly for you, as the facilitator, there is a broader issue of shared leadership and accountability here – through this simple exercise you are heightening awareness and encouraging all members of the team to recognise their individual and collective responsibility for the performance of the team.

1 For more information on these characteristics go to this Stanford University page which provides a summary from the work of Douglas McGregor and Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith:

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