High Performing Teams

The Defining Characteristics of High-Performing Teams


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Having engaged and energised employees that work as part of a high-performing team creates incredible value for businesses. High performing teams execute more quickly, make better decisions, solve more complex problems, and do more to enhance creativity and build skills than an individual can.

This results in an effective organisation able to respond quickly to the needs and wants of customers and the markets they operate in. 

Highly effective teams are, in simple terms, a group of specialists who excel in specific professional areas in their field, that are brought together as part of a team with a specific mandate and goals. 

They collaborate, innovate, and push each other to achieve incredible results for their companies; all whilst fostering strong connections with their colleagues and their company’s goals and mission.

This post will arm managers, leaders, and organisations with the knowledge to build successful teams inside their companies. You will understand the characteristics of effective teams, the stages of team development, the types of high-performance work teams, the benefits to organisations in building high-performance teams, and the steps to building a high-performing team.

What sets high-performing teams apart from others? 

A high-performing team operates like a well-oiled machine, each individual complementing the group with specialist skills and knowledge and, importantly, understanding their role and focus on executing it effectively. 

An unwavering belief runs through high-performing teams – a sense that, without each individuals person’s contribution,  the results wouldn’t be as great. 

Unlike lesser-performing teams, high-performing teams ooze inspiration. Their morale is high, self-confidence and self-esteem abundant, all of which foster excellence. 

What are the benefits of having high-performing teams?

We need to think of benefits from the perspective of both employers and employees to fully understand the impact of effective performing teams on organisations.

Benefits for employees 

Employees derive a sense of belonging and support when part of a high-performing team. They feel their values align with those of their employers and the company’s leadership. This value alignment builds trust, resulting in greater efficiency and work productivity.

Benefits for employers

High-performing teams bring the following benefits to organisations: 

  • Divergent thinking, bold ideas, and new ways of working.
  • Clear communication and increased engagement.
  • Knowledge building and greater flexibility in thinking.
  • Improved client service.

What are the types of high-performance work teams?

High-performance teams will have various goals, objectives, and sometimes, timeframes under which they’re designed to operate. Whatever the parameters, these teams usually fall into these five categories:

Parallel teams 

Pull people from different disciplines and functions from within the company to work together on specific projects. Their limited authority is a defining aspect of their work, and they can only make recommendations.

Work teams 

Their roles are usually defined and full-time. They are responsible for a section of the company’s processes and systems in which they excel and are expected to produce business-defined results.

Project teams 

Specialist project teams are another type of high-performing team; they differ due to the time limit imposed on them to produce a one-time output. Tasks are rarely repetitive, with diverse skills and expertise making up the project team.

Management teams 

Include people in high-ranking positions. They coordinate and provide strategic direction to the teams they lead and are responsible for the overall performance of a business unit.

Virtual teams 

As the name suggests, virtual teams work together to achieve common goals – only their work spans different time and geographical zones. Unlike teams working in close proximity to each other, virtual teams face the added pressure of trying to work optimally online via the different tools available.

What are the stages of developing high-performance work teams?

Early psychology researcher, Dr Bruce Tuckman, developed a model for understanding how teams develop. His model (comprising the following stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing) has been used as a useful framework that managers and leaders have used to build effective teams.


People are attempting to relate to each other and their organisation. Managers and company leaders provide direction and a vision for the team, articulating the need to build a high-performing team.


This is the rocky stage of conflict between team members and their leaders. Here, training is used to help people learn to communicate and manage conflict.


It is the period after individuals have learned to work through conflicts and the team begins to develop. Here, people begin to appreciate their differences and start to work together.

The role of the leader also becomes clear, as they serve as a facilitator offering encouragement and guidance to their team.


A fully functional team is born! Team members improve their ability to manage relationships, and learn to work toward common goals. Managers and leaders focus on delegating responsibilities and tasks towards achieving business goals.

What are the characteristics of high-performance teams?

Because no two work teams are identical, we cannot claim to know of one universal measure of performance effectiveness for groups. Despite this, though, these are the main characteristics that we can agree result in high-performing teams:

Talent, skills, and work ethic

The skill and ability of each individual define high-performance teams. The most talented people are recruited as a matter of priority to ensure the correct mix of skills and knowledge.

Chosen team members are expected to demonstrate commitment to performance excellence, exercise candour and mutual respect for colleagues and managers, and hold themselves and their organisations accountable at individual and team levels.

Team purpose, goals, and roles

Working toward common goals with focused intensity is another core characteristic of high-performance teams, whether their work is long- or short-term. Team members show commitment to the work and to each other.

People excel when their roles are clear: in essence, they know how to do their jobs and why they are doing them. Each member supports the team’s mission and vision.

When the purpose is clear and tied to each person’s role and responsibilities, team potential is greatly enhanced.

This also includes what’s known as “stretch” goals, intentionally ambitious goals designed to challenge people to work towards greater goals; these tend to add an extra challenge to motivate team members.


Equally ambitious and high-performing leaders often accompany a high-performing team.

Qualities of these effective leaders include, among others:

  • The ability to keep the purpose, goals, and chosen approach to achieving goals relevant and meaningful
  • Build commitment and confidence
  • Support team members to enhance their skills and increase their value
  • Manage internal and external relationships, ensuring to remove of obstacles that might hinder group performance
  • Provide opportunities for others to grow and succeed without seeking credit
  • And a willingness to do the work required to achieve business results.

Conflict and communication

High-performance teams require conflict management to function at the highest level.

Managing conflict helps team members develop the ability to communicate openly; here, the focus is on addressing issues openly and candidly. Open lines of communication are key to consistently high team performance; it matters for motivation, maintaining interest, and promoting cooperation.

Power and empowerment

High-performing work teams are likely to be empowered in a number of ways, which is also an important trait of their work success.

People are entrusted to make critical decisions about the work, they are encouraged to take more ownership of the work and to develop new skills along the way.

Researchers often refer to an ideal situation as “loose-tight,” meaning that clear decision-making boundaries exist, yet enough room exists for people to make empowered choices.

Incentive, motivation and efficacy

Incentives that are monetary and nonmonetary can have a positive impact on the effectiveness of a team. Specifically, they can impact the tactical implementation of a team’s goal.

But, it must be noted that over time, members of high-performing teams place more value on working on interesting projects as an indicator of personal satisfaction at work. This personal satisfaction at work, it turns out, is what’s needed to elevate team performance.

Norms and standards

Norms and standards help govern how high-performing teams work by establishing standards for open lines of communication, early resolution of conflict, regular evaluation of both individual and team performance, high levels of respect among members, a cohesive and supportive team environment, a strong work ethic that focuses on results and shared recognition of team successes.

High-performing teams discuss and agree to these standards – and each person agrees to uphold them and hold others accountable as well.

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