Common Characteristics of High-Performing Teams

Excerpt from “Precise Leaders Get Results” by Paul B. Thornton (Motivational Press, 2017).

On many teams, there is a lack of agreement around one or more of the following:

  • Goals: Where are we going?
  • Plans: What are we doing to get there?
  • Values: What’s most important?
  • Rewards: What’s in it for me?
  • Roles and Responsibilities: How can I contribute?

High-performing (HP) teams (athletic teams, surgical teams, construction crew, string quartet, film crews, and business teams) find agreement and precise answers to these questions. The common characteristics you find on HP teams include:

1. An Effective Leader: The team leader plays a major role in the success of any team. The best team leaders have three important skills:

  • Task Skills include the ability to set goals, establish priorities, assign roles and responsibilities, plan and run effective meetings, and monitor results.
  • People Skills include the ability to build relationships, connect with people, resolve conflicts, motivate, and celebrate success.
  • Diagnostic Skills include the ability to diagnose what individuals or the whole team needs to move forward.

Effective team leaders work both with the team and on the team.

With the team—Team leaders work with team members to establish goals, develop plans, solve problems, make decisions, etc.

On the team—Team leaders use their diagnostic skills to determine if team members have the right skills and share the team’s goals, plans, and values. The leader also determines whether the team processes are working efficiently (no wasted time) and effectively (focused on the right things). In addition, it means addressing team members who may not be the right fit for the team.

Some leaders spend too much time working with the team rather than on the team.

2. Shared Goals: The goals (or deliverables) are clearly defined, accepted, and supported by all team members. No hidden agendas or competing priorities. Shared goals provide the reason for collaboration.

In addition to shared goals, individual performance goals are established for each team member.

3. Shared Plan: All team members understand and support the plan. Further, they understand how their roles and responsibilities align with the plan and contribute to the achievement of team goals.

4. Shared Values: Four values that exist on HP teams include:

  • Excellence: There is a commitment to producing great products and great service. That level of commitment is lacking on many teams!
  • Continuous improvement: There is curiosity and motivation to discover better ways of working together and improving results. They periodically discuss how they are doing and what they can do better.
  • Respect: All team members demonstrate a genuine respect for their colleagues’ knowledge, skills, insights, and ideas.
  • Trust: Team members fully trust their colleagues to do their assigned tasks; say what they think; and provide advice, guidance, and support when needed. Team members are comfortable being open and honest. They accept feedback because they believe it comes from a genuine desire to be helpful and supportive.

Without these values, it’s difficult for a team of people to work together and achieve top performance.

During an interview, retired executive Charles Toye said, “Many of my assignments were to international and domestic businesses. I was brought in to fix underperforming teams. Typically, I found at least one person who needed to be removed from the team because he or she wouldn’t or couldn’t share the team’s values.”

5. The Right People: Biology or chemistry? Some people believe in Darwin’s survival of the fittest. You select the smartest, most skilled, most talented people for your team. Others believe in the importance of good chemistry. You need people who like each other and work well together. Of course, you need both!

HP teams get the right people on the bus and take steps to remove the wrong people. The “right people” meet the following criteria:

  • Knowledge and skills to excel at performing their assigned role
  • Highly motivated and interested in the problem or opportunity
  • Committed to supporting and helping team members
  • Value the ideas, views, and strengths of the other people on the team
  • Willing to give and receive feedback

6. Efficient and Effective Processes: HP Teams understand their task and their process—how they work together. They establish efficient and effective processes.

  • Interpersonal Processes: These include communicating, listening, resolving conflicts, providing feedback, and praising and encouraging others. Consultant Alden Davis states, “The soft skills are critical, especially those for resolving conflict. Unresolved conflicts hold teams back and slow down the work.”
  • Task Processes: These include creating a plan, assigning roles and responsibilities, establishing deadlines, making decisions, measuring performance, and holding people accountable. Consultant Michael Vann notes, “High-performing teams have a strong emphasis on accountability. When you hold people accountable, it motivates them to maximize their potential.”

HP teams establish and enforce team rules that relate to how they will work together.

7. Celebrations: Individual and team accomplishments are celebrated. Celebrating success builds pride and cohesiveness.

Some Things to Remember

High-performing teams have talented people who are led by an effective leader. Working together isn’t always easy. HP teams find a way to get everyone aligned around a set of shared goals, plans, and values.

Excerpt from “Precise Leaders Get Results” by Paul B. Thornton (Motivational Press, 2017).

Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, trainer, and professor of Business Administration at Springfield Technical Community College. His latest book is “Precise Leaders Get Results” (Motivational Press). He can be contacted at




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