10 Key Factors in Managing High Performing Teams

SplitShire_IMG_4354_high performing team

What makes some teams perform better than others? Well, that is a question more important than ever to answer. To stay competitive and solve the grand challenges of the future such as global warming, climate refugees, cyber terrorism or putting people on Mars, we need brilliant people who perform and innovate faster and better than ever before. Most importantly – we need these brilliant people to collaborate and team up.

But how? I think we’ve all been members of dysfunctional teams with poor leadership, unclear direction of where you’re heading and a lack of communication between members. We know from experience that teaming up can pose a great challenge.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as quick fix when it comes to team performance. It requires patience, compassion and structure. To be able to perform and secure team productivity in the long term, ten important focus areas from researcher Susan A. Wheelan are suggested.

Clear goals. The most important thing that characterizes a high performing team is that all team members have a clear picture of where they are heading – clear goals. This might seem obvious, but it is not the case for most teams. Even if all team members know what the goals are, they are likely to have different opinions of what it takes to achieve them. At the same time, the words used to describe the goals can mean different things for different people. It is useless to work hard to achieve the goals unless everybody has a common and clear view of the goals.

Clear roles in the team. When the goals are clarified and the team has a common understanding of them, it is time to start organizing. Decide what needs to be done, when and by whom. While also this factor can be seen as common sense, a lot of teams have great difficulty in achieving it. First, expectations of each individual must be clear, as well as how the tasks should be performed. Secondly, each individual must have the right skills to be able to perform their tasks. Finally, each individual must accept his or her assigned role.

Mutual dependence. In successful teams, the challenging tasks demand team members to work together as one unit and depend on each others abilities. A well functioning team will by far outperform an individual when it comes to challenging and complex tasks. 1+1=3, right?

Situational leadership. Team leaders need to be flexible in their leadership, to meet the different needs of the team during different phases. When the team dynamics change, the leadership must adapt accordingly.

Communication and feedback. In high performing teams everyone gets their say despite age, title and gender and the communication is seen as open and allowing. Members give regular, constructive feedback to each other on individual performance and contributions. This leads to over all improvement of processes as well as personal development.

Discussion, decision-making and planning. A great deal of time is spent on planning, how to solve problems and make decisions. High performing teams decide together how to make decisions before they take decisions.

Ability to implement and evaluate. Decisions are made by the members and solutions are implemented fast. Both leaders and members follow up on the decisions and are responsible for acting accordingly.

A culture that promote innovation and diversity. The norms in high performing teams inspire performance, quality and success. The members encourage each other to be creative and innovative. Also, there is high acceptance for differences and diversity among team members, as long as it has a positive outcome of the result.

Structure and size. When putting together a team, the size of the team is fundamental for success. Teams of three to six members are significantly more productive than larger teams. Consequently, high performing team consists of the minimum number of members required to reach the objectives. One success factor is to have a pre-defined meeting structure and use the time together efficiently. Secondly, the members of a high performing team spend quite some time together to be able to keep up a high level of performance. Research support that a team has to work together for at least six month before reaching a high level of performance.This means that there is no quick fix and patience is needed!

Collaboration and conflict management. One of the success factors for high performance is close collaboration between team members. Members show kindness and compassion towards each other and help out when someone gets stuck. This doesn’t mean that there are no conflicts. In fact, conflicts can be quite common – but they don’t last long because high performing teams have effective strategies for handling and solving conflicts, enabling them to move on quickly.

Whether your team will put the first people on Mars or develop a new, awesome software, I hope these bullets will help you identify what your team can focus on to perform better.

 What is your team’s biggest challenge right now? Please leave your thoughts in the comments field.


/Johanna Tömmervik, CMO @ Prindit


Wheelan, S. A. (2013) Creating effective teams – a guide for members and leaders. Sage Publications Inc.

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