What happens when great talent is not enough? When organizations have leadership teams that look good on paper yet fail to live up to expectations, or perform as required by the marketplace?

This has become an increasingly common concern for organizations in the past few years. Here at Vantage, we believe that talent matters and that people make the place. Having great talent creates competitive advantage and is a key ingredient in earning the right to win in the marketplace. But we’ve all experienced a situation where a collection of individually “great talent” does not equate to “great team”.

For many of us, teamwork is seen as a value. In corporations, teamwork is more meaningfully viewed as a means to an end. Yet many teams, despite their deep domain expertise, excellent operational focus, and collective passion for their business, can struggle to capitalize on the depth and breadth of experience that their members bring to the table.

From Good Team to Great Team

We found that the key differentiator for high performance teams is the presence of a big stretch deliverable that allows the group to come together at another level. Think of a sports team that, faced with the pressure of a tight playoff game, starts showing up like they never did before: this is a great team working together to accomplish an impressive goal.

In businesses, we hear executives describe extraordinary team performance as occurring when leaders have no choice but to collaborate in order for the team to consistently deliver at such a high level. Their functional responsibilities are almost secondary to their responsibility to each other, like they have a collective ownership for the business.

The High Performance Team Model

Through our research and work with teams, we’ve  found that there are five factors that can be used to distinguish high performance teams from the rest:

  • Shared Commitment to the Vision and Extraordinary Goals
  • Shared Accountability for Results
  • Transparent Communication
  • Constructive Conflict
  • Mutual Respect and Camaraderie

In practical terms, high performance teams are on the same page, are all committed to the mission together, think of it as their work, and communicate in ways that make things easier.

When there’s a problem, they nip it immediately and fix it so it remains fixed, and thus conflict is resolved in a way that creates rather than destroys business value.

They create a climate of camaraderie where people can be open and candid yet aggressive with their ideas, where teammates take chances and speak frankly. There is a sustaining energy to the place.

Guiding Principles for Team Improvement

Our experience in working with teams has led us to five guiding principles we use as our foundation when helping any team improve their performance against the model:

  • In order to achieve high performance, the first step for each team is to identify a clear and compelling performance challenge.
  • Competent teams can become high performance teams.
  • The team leader is ultimately accountable for team performance.
  • Team members are accountable for contributing fully to whole team success and for rising above a silo mentality.
  • High performance team members have insight into their own performance, effectively give and receive feedback, and take action on closing their skill gaps.

Finally, one of the hallmarks of strong teams is self-evident: they make and keep their commitments to each other. Therefore, they’re well suited to assessment and development. When they identify action items to address gaps in their high performance profile, they stand to make significant gains in cohesiveness and, ultimately, in performance.