Characteristics of High-Performing Teams

group of coworkers talking together

Individual employees can be productive and creative contributors. But they’re not necessarily the driving force behind your company’s sustained success. Rather, it’s the combined efforts of the committed collective that tends to make the most difference. High-performing teams can allow your company to grow and thrive for the long-term.  

Putting emphasis on teamwork is not an unusual concept. But collaboration in and of itself isn’t necessarily going to help your business thrive. Just like there are certain aspects of individuals that contribute to success, there are common characteristics in high-performing teams. As such, it’s important to understand what these are so you can cultivate them in the teams that drive your business. Indeed many of these apply to both smaller teams within departments and the overall company as a larger team.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the characteristics of high-performing teams.

Clear and Consistent Goals

It’s difficult to know whether your team is performing well without any solid metrics to measure their activities against. Similarly, how are your workers supposed to effectively and cooperatively achieve success if they have no real concept of what success looks like to your business? This is why teams that have a clear and consistent set of goals to shoot for tend to be among the highest performing.

There can be several types of goals that are linked to the performance of teams within your organization. These are likely to include: 

  • Long-Term Goals

These goals usually revolve around the overall aims of the business over a specific period of time. These may be aspirations toward a specific type of growth, acquisition of market share, or reduction of costs, among others. Your company may have several long-term goals running parallel with one another. There is a tendency to keep these goals visible only to executive leadership, but your team can benefit from gaining an understanding of these, too.

It can help your workers to have a better knowledge of the big picture. This is particularly important for teams whose actions will have a direct impact on the achievement of these goals. On a simple level, it means every member of the team has a sense of what they’re all striving toward. Feeling involved in the success of the business can also be a strong motivating element and help employees feel more engaged with the company. Not to mention it is easier for teams to collaborate on innovative solutions when they understand the bigger problems they’re tackling.

  • Operational Goals

These are the recurring goals that keep the company functional. There will be daily and quarterly targets that each of your teams will need to hit. Each project your teams engage in will also have various operational milestone goals along its timeline that have to be achieved to maintain positive progress. 

This isn’t about micromanagement, either. Setting hard targets on every action your teams engage in doesn’t give them space to independently maneuver or innovate to your company’s advantage. Rather, it’s more effective to formulate these operational goals in collaboration with the individual team managers and supervisors. They’ll have greater insights into what operational goals are practical for their workers and also what elements tend to motivate these employees.  

  • Qualitative Goals

Your company’s qualitative goals are more likely to be focused on less tangible elements such as the public perception of your brand, your company values, and the culture within your business. Just because it can be more difficult to produce objectives and key results (OKR) metrics for these targets, it doesn’t make them any less important to the performance of your teams. These are elements that can unite your teams and motivate them to strive toward shared ideals. 

However, these qualitative goals shouldn’t just be dictated to your teams. To be effective, you need them to not just grasp the qualities you feel are important but also commit to them over a long period of time. As such, it can be wise to regularly seek their input on these. You can use pulse surveys throughout the year to establish your teams’ ongoing engagement with the qualitative goals and invite suggestions for improvements. This can help them feel more personally involved with the creation of your values and culture.

Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Recognition programs are important for the productivity of all workers. But one of the clear characteristics of high-performing teams is a commitment to meaningful peer-to-peer recognition. This is where there is a more horizontal rewards system, where teams regularly show appreciation for the talents, skills, and achievements of their colleagues.

From a direct performance perspective, this helps all members of a team motivate one another toward mutual success. There’s a sense that everyone has a role to play in the results the group produces. Importantly, it specifically highlights and celebrates how individuals enhance the team with their unique attributes. They each gain a better understanding of their value as an essential component of the group. That this is spearheaded and perpetuated by peers themselves, rather than more distant executives and managers, also makes praise and rewards feel more authentic and meaningful. 

A key outcome of peer-to-peer recognition is the impact it has on team bonding. High-performing teams require close relationships with members that are built on trust. This form of peer appreciation doesn’t just mean those receiving praise are more incentivized to forge connections with their colleagues. It also means each member of the team is encouraged to pay close attention to their team members’ positive attributes. Everyone gains a greater appreciation and respect for one another.

Solid Communication

A team is not a single homogenous unit. It is composed of a range of talented individuals, each with their own perspectives and challenges. A certain amount of independence can be a great component of any project. But unless each team member is able to easily connect with their colleagues consistently throughout their activities, your business can very quickly devolve into chaos. As such, one of the defining characteristics of high-performing teams is solid communication protocols.

Success here tends to begin with providing all team members with communications training. This isn’t just because not all members will be naturally predisposed toward communicative soft skills. You need to make certain that every employee has a firm understanding of how vital the company considers communications to be and what is expected from them. It also gives you an opportunity to iterate the various types of communication tools the company uses and in what circumstances each is designed for.

Most importantly, you need to encourage open forms of communication between colleagues. Just get them talking to one another in an honest but considerate way. It can be wise to provide group communication learning sessions. This allows members to better understand one another’s individual approaches to collaborative contact and navigate challenges together effectively. Alongside strictly professional skills, you should also provide space for casual conversation, too. Many companies overlook how vital this is to help workers understand one another better and communicate more effectively when professional issues arise.

High-performing teams don’t just communicate well with each other, either. When there are clear lines to highlight issues, concerns, and recommendations to management or executives, teams are empowered to obtain the resources, changes, and attention they need to thrive. Implementing an anonymous suggestion box feature can encourage teams to offer their thoughts and ideas in an open, honest, and timely fashion. 

Diversity

A monocultural team can produce a form of echo chamber. When all members come from similar racial, gender, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds, there leaves little room for growth. However, the different perspectives of teams featuring greater diversity tends to boost innovative thinking. This is why high-performing teams are usually composed of a more varied cohort.

Producing diverse teams isn’t something that happens on its own. The business landscape over the decades has leaned systemically toward targeting people from certain backgrounds. It’s important, therefore, to step outside the structures of what your industry usually relies on. Attend recruitment events in traditionally marginalized communities. Be open to hiring those with alternative types of work and life experience rather than degrees. Create a working atmosphere that is accessible to employees with neurodivergent traits.

Remember that true diversity also means having a cultural range of employees at all levels of leadership alongside entry-level team roles. There also has to be a clear sense that there is equal pay, benefits, and opportunities for workers of all backgrounds. Your teams can provide insights into how effectively you’re nurturing diversity here by implementing equity surveys regularly. Aside from giving your company important diversity intelligence, it demonstrates to your teams that you’re committed to making positive change.

Conclusion

It’s only natural that you want your teams to perform at peak levels. As such, you need to cultivate the characteristics that tend to lead to greater productivity, innovation, and positivity within teams. Make sure your working groups are all committed toward the same clear goals and encourage forms of peer recognition. Solid communication is key to overcoming challenges, while a diverse employee base helps make teams more versatile. By combining an understanding of prime team characteristics and engaging your workers to help make improvements, your company can benefit from strong collaborations.