Leadership & Management May 17, 2017

Top performing teams

7 steps to make sure your team is a real team

Teams are much more than just the sum of their parts. Together, their combined performance can catapult them to levels of success far higher than individual members can achieve on their own. Effective, high performing teams are among an organisations’ most valued resources, especially when facing challenges or capitalising on new opportunities. In organisations, most of the vital work is done by teams. However, building and maintaining top performing teams isn’t always easy. Although we may expect the extraordinary from them, the reality is that teams also under perform or even fail. So what stops them from delivering results?


What do teams really need?

Teams need strong team players in order to perform well. People who speak up and express their ideas and thoughts clearly and honestly. Members of a team also need to listen to and have respect for each other.

However, the combination of different personalities, attitudes and backgrounds don’t always make cooperation or communication easy. While some people are enthusiastic, supportive and helpful, others may be defensive and hard to work with. Sometimes relationships are competitive or people hold back because they don’t identify with the team they’re in. This can result in unspoken conflicts, a toxic atmosphere or a lack of engagement that negatively impacts the team’s performance.

“Leaders have to find ways to address these challenges and help their top teams perform at the highest level. If leaders want to make the right decision and guide their team to success, they should first be clear about what a real team is,” says Thierry Stephan, Krauthammer CEO.

Inspired by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, he defines high performing teams as:

“a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, clear performance goals, a modus operandi for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

Unlike working groups that rely on individual performance, a team’s success is measured by their collective efforts. Teams that deliver high performance are always driven by:

A common purpose

A team must have a "raison d’être", a credible purpose related to winning or producing cutting edge results. A high-performing unit "owns" this purpose.

Clear performance goals

If a team wants to succeed, it needs defined goals. Moreover, these aims have to be based on every member’s input. Strong goals inspire and challenge a team, giving it a sense of urgency and ambition.

Modus operandi

An effective team has clear individual roles and responsibilities. It has also agreed on a way of working and a decision-making process.

Mutual accountability 

Most people are good at being accountable individually. However, in an effective team, members also hold themselves accountable to each other and their shared goals.

Without these elements, a team runs the risk of failing to meet expectations or achieving their goals.

The high-performance package

So how can you make sure your team doesn’t just carry the "team" label and ensure that it has everything it needs to achieve results?

1. Select the right size. A smaller team of between two and six people makes it easier for everybody to share their experience and contribute to the team’s goals.

2. Set the direction and obtain agreement from all the members on the team’s objectives.

3. Involve people with the right mix of knowledge – from technical and functional expertise to problem-solving, decision-making and interpersonal skills.

4. Support team members in finding an optimal approach to working together. Decide together who will do what, how schedules are set, what skills need to be developed and how decisions will be made and adapted.

5. Ensure that all members, including the leader, can contribute to the team’s output in concrete ways.

6. Keep motivating the team. Celebrate and reward performance with initiatives like team lunches or dinners.

7. Assist the team in continuously improving communication. Open, honest and regular communication between team members is critical to build trust and respect – a key requirement for effective teams.

Leading by example

All of these guidelines apply to any team but particularly to top management teams where high performance is expected. It’s the managers in top level teams who are responsible for strategically guiding their organisation. And their positive collaboration and mutual accountability can also set an example for other teams. By being a positive role model for team effort at management level, they can boost employee engagement and commitment. And this will lead to high productivity and contribute to the success of the entire organisation.

Krauthammer’s High Performing Team Journey has been specifically designed for top management teams. Our programme covers four crucial areas: team mission, team spirit, team building and team working. The sessions comprise hard and soft topics and the programme’s content and duration is flexible.

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