Tips for Creating High-performing Teams

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Opinions about how to create a high-performing team vary widely. The interesting thing about these opinions is that even if your reaction is “Yes, but …” almost all of them offer food for thought. Here are just a few interesting perspectives.

Based on her many years of observation and experience, Kelly Waters has identified seven principles for creating adaptable, innovative teams, regardless of the specific context:

      • Focused and flexible: Ensure that the team is 100 percent dedicated to a single, common purpose and is flexible about job titles and descriptions.
      • Autonomous: Make sure the team has control over its destiny and isn’t dependent on other teams.
      • Small: Keep team size to twelve or, ideally, smaller.
      • Talented: Hire the best talent and provide training and support to develop their skills.
      • Established: Keep team members together, rather than forming new teams when new projects arise.
      • Stable: Try not to make changes to the team so as to avoid the disruptive nature of ramping up and ramping down.
      • Together: Locate team members together.

Obviously, these principles can be difficult to achieve in a large organization. Still, as Waters points out, they speak to Daniel Pink’s intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

Pink draws from extensive research on human motivation to demonstrate that key to high performance is our need to direct our own lives and to learn and create new things. In his book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he offers techniques for putting autonomy, mastery, and purpose into action.

Of course, some teams call themselves “teams” but consist largely of a bunch of individuals who work independently. If a team is to succeed as a group of individual team members, it helps if they actually spend time working together.

To address this issue, Bob Jones and his team implemented something he dubbed an “automation hour:”  

… one shared hour a day that everyone on the test team sets aside to work on automation projects together. We now work on our automation backlog evenly throughout the entire sprint, even during the busiest times of the sprint.

The team started the automation hour to achieve better discipline for developing its backlog of regression tests, but it turned out to provide an opportunity to work as a team and led to cross training that gave team members greater breadth of business knowledge.

John McKee reminds leaders who want to improve team performance about some things that are easy to overlook in the heat of the moment:

      • Watch the lingo. Avoid the use of management jargon. Talk like a normal person.
      • Ask lots of open-ended questions. Don’t behave as if you have all the answers.
      • Look after yourself. Find some balance in your life.

In fact, we all should probably follow these three tips.

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Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a writer and speaker who draws from her background in both psychology and IT. Naomi's recent books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions and Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. Naomi is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com.