What are High-Performing Teams?
When I see a highly effective Agile team working, I think of High-Performing Teams. The way I define a high-performing team is:
A group of people with diverse backgrounds, aligned with and committed to a common purpose, who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation, that produce superior results.
Let’s break this down a little bit:
“A group of people with diverse backgrounds”
To me, diverse backgrounds does not have to mean different ethnicity or gender, it could also mean different education, religion, political views, places we’ve been, and other aspects that shape us to who we are. I find that when I work with a diverse group of people different ideas flow, there are different perspectives, and many times they are better than anything I could have thought of on my own.
“aligned with and committed to a common purpose.”
It’s important for a group to be aligned and working towards the same goal. When there are different agendas in a group, it leads to confusion and chaos. And likely will not produce the results expected.
“who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation.”
This is related to communication in a few aspects. These aspects are listening, expressing ideas, resolving conflicts, and being vulnerable. These things lead to collaboration and innovation. Sometimes when you see the end result of a product, you know if a team worked well together or not. This can be seen by the quality of the product, does everything fall seamlessly in place, are there very little defects, does the product work as expected or even exceed expectations. If so, this was a high-performing team that created this product.
Characteristics of a high-performing team
When I see a high-performing team, these are the characteristics and actions of that team.
- Mutual trust
- Alignment around a common objective/goal
- Lively meetings and discussions
- Ability to manage conflict
- Make high-quality decisions
- Leadership involves and engages all team members
- Puts team above self
To help picture a high-performing team, sometimes I like to picture the opposite or a dysfunctional team. A friend suggested I read this book when I found myself questioning why the team I was working with felt so difficult and hard. The book is called: The Five 5 Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencion
5 Dysfunctions of a Team
In the book, there’s a pyramid of the 5 dysfunctions and how each one builds up on the other to create a dysfunctional team.
Dysfunction #1 – Absence of Trust
The foundation of a team is trust. Trust is more than believing that someone will do what they say they will do. It’s also about being vulnerable. Being vulnerable is being able to admit you were wrong, be able to ask for help, and be able to say I don’t know. It’s also about showing up and being able to disagree.
Dysfunction #2 – Fear of Conflict
When a team member is afraid to speak his or her opinion because of repercussions, this will spell trouble for the team. Having conflict is natural and it needs to be addressed. I’ve seen this when there is one person on the team that has a strong personality or has the loudest voice. Sometimes we shy away from disagreeing because of the uncomfortable situation this may create and decide to follow this person anyways. But what happens when this person is wrong? Could that be more disastrous for a team?
Dysfunction #3 – Lack of Commitment
Have you been on a team and it seems like someone has ‘checked out’? It seems like he/she is not aligned with the same goal as the team. This can lead to people feeling like some are not pulling their weight and wonder if he or she should put their best effort into the project. Quality may slip, some team members may have a different agenda and different goal they are trying to attain and before you know it the team falls apart.
Dysfunction #4 – Avoidance of Accountability
If the team can’t keep each other accountable, this leads to underlying issues that will come up. People should deliver what they say they will or let others know why they can’t. If this doesn’t happen, it also leads to resentment.
Dysfunction #5 – Inattention to Results
Last, if the team doesn’t care about the results, how will things improve or get better? This leads to complacency and the best work or superior results will not be delivered.
In a high-performing team, none of these dysfunctions exist or the dysfunctions are addressed.