Leadership

What makes a high-performing team?


Have you ever been on a project team where team members all got along, they all had the right skills, and everyone worked hard and pulled together to get the project done?

Those are just some of the characteristics of a high-performing team. Although such teams can sometimes form by themselves, even in spite of a manager who gets in the way, it's more likely that a manager is the one who facilitates team members through a process that leads to the team becoming as effective and efficient as possible.

For some managers, this journey is extremely difficult. They may be very organized, technically strong, and masters of organizational politics, but they may not be very good people managers and not very effective at building a team. In some respects, it's also hard for a manager to guide a team toward high-performance if he or she was never part of a high-performing team. If you don't have a vision of a high-performance team based on experience, it may be very difficult to guide a team of people there.

A high-performing team takes some work Teams that have not worked together before usually go through four stages of team development, as defined in the Tuckman model. They are:

  • Forming. The team is meeting and getting to know each other. They can't rely on others totally because they're not sure what everyone's skills, strengths, and weaknesses are.
  • Storming. The team struggles through understanding roles and responsibilities. Usually personality conflicts start to arise. Team members feel good enough to complain, but not always confident or knowledgeable enough to propose solutions. Team members know each other well enough that they can start to argue. Generally, the team is in flux and people are not exactly sure what they are supposed to be doing. Some immature teams never make it past this stage.
  • Norming. The team starts getting used to each other's strengths and weaknesses. Team members start to compensate for one another and a feeling of camaraderie starts to take shape. Team members accept each other as people and enjoy being around each other. The team may begin realizing that as a whole, they are stronger than they were as just a group of individual contributors.
  • Performing. This is the last stage of a high-performance team. At this stage, the team strives toward common objectives - written or unwritten. They rely on each other. When trouble arises, they ask how they can help. The team members can generally work without a lot of management supervision. The team's overall productivity is especially high and is recognized as such by others outside the team.

Knowing the Tuckman model can help you as you work on your teams. It helps to know why conflict may be occurring. You may not get there with every team, but you'll know enough to strive toward the goal of a high-performing team.

20 comments
wezzer1955
wezzer1955

1. Communication, communication, communication. Be willing to ask and answer dumb questions, even if you know the answer. Someone else may be afraid to ask. 2. Knowledge sharing. Help others. Ask for help. When someone asks for help, and you know the answer, make the price of your help be his/her understanding of the problem. Don't give solutions away, give knowledge away. 3. A manager who is willing to stand BACK to BACK with developers, facing the organization and protecting developers from as much organizational administrivia as possible, allowing developers to concentrate on their work. Over-delegation and meddling by managers can be very counterproductive and distracting. 4. Physical proximity can hardly be beat. Failing that, messenger software is a MUST. Then use it. Often. This simulates walking to the office/cubicle next door and asking questions or discussing issues. Invaluable. 5. Brainstorming. It's fun, educational, encourages participation, and produces very good plans, designs, or solutions in amazingly short order. This draws on the synergy of the team and shouldn't be discounted. All these items help to produce the mysterious and often non-quantifiable "chemistry" of good teams.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You need the team to take ownership of the goal. Without that, kiss the rest of it goodbye. Teams are internally driven, over a cliff, to distraction or to succeed. The only impact a manager external to the team can have is to be clear about the goal, and provide an environment in which it can be scored. Almost anything else will be counter-productive. A team is not a bunch of interchangeable parts, it's not an 'in' name for a department, it's not an excuse for de-manning. It's group of people who should be lead, not pushed. Give them a target, the minimum constraints you can get away with and get the heck out of the way. Seen it happen once, it was the best time in my career, and incredibly successful. So much so we engineered ourselves right out of the door when the dinosaurs and bean counters realised we were different.

tsimon
tsimon

I have been developing a web based virtual workplace for incubating high performace teams since 1997. I used the Tuckman model originally to integrate social networking, CRM, workflow, training and project management. For a long time it seemed there was little interest in this at the US corporate level. Most of my work was in Europe, where it was easier to sell our platform. Our web site is http://www.iprismglobal.com. I have a lot of projects starting and am looking for people who can work with us. We are creating a network of virtual high performance team members with various skill sets. Please contact me if this interests you.

silviu.niculae
silviu.niculae

Stage 5: Adjourning This is about completion and disengagement, both from the tasks and the group members. Individuals will be proud of having achieved much and glad to have been part of such an enjoyable group. They need to recognise what they've done, and consciously move on. Some authors describe stage 5 as "Deforming and Mourning", recognising the sense of loss felt by group members.

karen
karen

Great article to identify the stages of the team's struggle towards cohesion. Would love to see a second part that outlines the actions required by the manager at each phase to move it to the next.

hardeek.thakkar
hardeek.thakkar

Apart from Roles and Responsibilities, the maturity of each team member is definitely counted upon. Think of a tech lead asking his team about a release at the interval of every 5 minutes but even without knowing where the team is heading for or what is the team struggling with. Maturity is every team member must understand his/her individual role and responsibility if wanted to be a part of high performing team. Good article at all!

nitin.sharma
nitin.sharma

The stages listed above appropriately describs human behaviour, apart from these stages it is the responsibilty a manager to create a good culture/practice which his or her team members may follow and create a win-win kind of situation.

perumalbv
perumalbv

Scope of work Clear and specific explantion of roles and responsibilities of each individual of the team is the one of the most important factor which contributes to a high performing team

dawgit
dawgit

Team Members. With-out them, it won't work. It's about People, People. -d

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

saw it happen. It was the best time for me too. We didn't end up 'out of the door' but in the maintain phase. Somehow that wasn't/isn't the same.

silviu.niculae
silviu.niculae

Smith, M. K. (2005) 'Bruce W. Tuckman - forming, storming, norming and performing in groups, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/tuckman.htm. Last updated: August 23, 2007.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

but the actions would be more specific to the type of team. Still, it could be done for a more specific team (developers, QA, etc). It would be interesting.

meryllogue
meryllogue

"which his team members" = "which his or her team members"

sonja.Young
sonja.Young

This is very critical and often overlooked.

MDreamer
MDreamer

Can we imagine that we have the not so perfect team, but willing to learn, and transform it into what we actually need from them? Through team norming, training, feedback?

MikeGall
MikeGall

I've worked for managers that would blame workers for only working 60hrs a week, and I've worked for managers that gave kudos for working overtime when they were working harder. Guess which I liked better? There needs to be an incentive for the group to perform better than average. It might just be their professionalism, but in my experience in any group there will be the guy that doesn't care about the work, just that a vacation is coming up. This is were the manager makes the difference with a carrot stick model. If you have a team that concistantly out performs, fight for them to get more money or perks. If they produce 20% more work, it shouldn't be too hard to convince senior management to pay them 10% more (and if it does they won't have the top performers for long). People in other groups will see that there is something to be gained for working hard, or offering talents that aren't in their job description to help out. That 10% will be well repaid. Similarly, if you have a few dogs on the team, they should be relocated or dismissed. It sucks, but I agree with Jack Walsh on this, you are making yourself miserable and them too, but dragging them forward on something they aren't good at. If they have other talents, and it isn't a lazyness issue, again the manager should fight to keep the employee, but in a position where they can excel. Just my two cents.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Four electricians and I in a manufacturing plant. We used various means to re-engineer the system and took up time from 75% to 98%. I trained them to code, they taught me to fault find. Four out of five of us got ah reshuffled ina centralisation exercise. High performance = out of job. Hmmm, I'm sure this makes sense from a business point of view, I mean it must mustn't it? Surely?

dawgit
dawgit

Task + Conditions + Standards. Clearly defined (and communicated) and Reasonable Goals. Alow People to rise to their maximum Potentials and Expectations. Simple Stuff, and with universal applications. -d

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