The Composition of High Performing Teams

By: Bryan Miles

“Companies know that they derive greater creativity and innovation from teamwork – but what, they wonder, makes a great team?” – Margaret Heffernan

A TEAM IN HARMONY

“We need to do that section again.  Bryan, you’re late in the second measure and the intonation in that final chord isn’t lining up. Your pitch is a little high.”

It was true. My colleague was right.

“Ok, let’s do it again,” I said.

We had been rehearsing for over two hours. I was tired. It had already been a full day at work followed by the gym, and now it was after 9:00 on a Thursday night. The pressure of the upcoming competition was starting to get to me.

I wish this is the part where told you how well it went when we played that part again…but, that’s not the case.  I didn’t get it.  We spent fifteen minutes more on that section and ended rehearsal for the evening.

In agile terms, I was the group’s major impediment at that moment.
As I packed up I knew it was on me to work that section on my own before our next rehearsal.

We hear the term “high performing team” thrown around everywhere in the agile space. This leaves many people with two big questions:
What, exactly, defines a high performing team?
How can we as coaches help these teams develop?

ORCHESTRATION

In their book The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith define a team as  “A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

According to their research, high performing teams display six key characteristics:

  • Small enough in number
  • Adequate levels of complementary skills
  • Truly meaningful purpose
  • Specific goal or goals
  • Clear working approach
  • Sense of mutual accountability

 
 
Of course, not all teams with these characteristics are “high performing”. So, what defines a team as high performing?

Peter Hawkins, a formidable voice in team coaching, explains:
“A team’s performance can best be understood through its ongoing ability to facilitate the creation of added value for the organization it is a part of, the organization’s investors, the team’s internal and external customers and supplier, its team members, the communities the team operates within, and the more than human world in which we reside.”

We know the environmental factors that must be present to create great teams, but in order for a team to be defined as high performing, we need to look at the value they deliver.

RESONANCE

Looking at the above brief interaction with my quartet (small team number), we exhibit several of the components of high performing teams:

There is a strong sense of vision and purpose.

We have many defined goals as we prepare for future performances and competitions.

Over time we have developed a sense of security and safety in the group. We are open to discussing new and differing ideas. We have created an environment where we appreciate candid feedback even if it is hard to both give and receive. We all appreciate and respect this clear working approach and bring our unique and complimentary skills to every rehearsal.

There is also a strong sense of mutual accountability within the group. The team relies on me to know and understand my part and to execute it flawlessly under pressure. This requires dedication outside of rehearsal. Each member spends several hours a week preparing and practicing before we rehearse as a group(adequate levels of complementary skills).

Our individual passion for and playing experiences come together to make the group what it is. Leadership roles change constantly, with each person stepping up when needed, just as in the music. There are no soloists. The music demands that we step up and be heard at times, but it more often requires we hold back and blend with the other players to support the lead line.

Our companies want high performance. It’s up us to help create the environment. So I challenge you to write your team’s story. Does your team display the six key characteristics of a high performing team?

We want to hear from you! What are you doing to help create high performance in your organizations?
And if you’re having problems fine-tuning your team, don’t wait for the Agile Fairy to arrive, give us a call!

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