Rowing Team Business together

It’s easy to recognize a high-performing team when you see one. Maybe it’s a sales department that exceeds quarterly projections, an IT staff that reduces the volume of incoming tickets by focusing on follow-up, or that small task force responsible for finally organizing the file room or shared server. Regardless of a team’s scope, its duties, or even its members, there’s no team out there that can’t stand to continually improve and work more collaboratively.

Though high-performing teams can look like magic from the outside, there are habits they all have that can be emulated. Encourage these five habits to promote better performance from not only your teams, but the individuals that make them up.

1. They Communicate EffectivelySXSW_Icon_Communicating.png

A 2012 study by the Harvard Business Review revealed some interesting facts about communication on high-performance teams. By tracking and analyzing the interactions of teams in a wide range of workplaces, the researchers hypothesized that around 12 communication exchanges per hour between members of the team seems to be the optimal number.1 However, the study also showed that those interactions have some unique characteristics:

  • Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.
  • Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  • Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
  • Members carry on side conversations within the team.
  • Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.2

Managers should encourage members of their teams to communicate among themselves and empower them to take charge of their own tasks. If you notice there’s been a sustained period of non-communication or a flurry of talk around a certain issue, those can both be red flags that something needs attention.

2. They Set Big GoalsTeams_Icon_Goals.png

Team cohesiveness results from applying emotional intelligence to the team’s interactions. Provide opportunities for them to express appreciation for each others' skills, and also their frustrations.

According to leadership development experts Linkage, Inc., one way a leader can empower a team toward high performance is to set vision-based goals along with the team. The leader should bring the vision for the future state they want the team to reach to the table. Before even devising the steps necessary to achieve the vision, the business owner or leader must ensure everyone believes the vision is attainable. During this process, make sure you ask questions to make sure everyone’s fears or concerns about the vision have been expressed. Once everyone feels committed to the goal, challenge the people who will be doing the work to set the agenda for how it should proceed.3

3. They Are ConfidentTeams_Icon_Confidence.png

For a team to be high-performing, its members must be confident in their ability to meet the goals they’ve been assigned. They also have to be confident in each other’s abilities. Essentially, the individuals on a high-performing team need to be emotionally intelligent. This means they are aware of and respect other peoples’ emotions, and can apply that understanding to their own decision making, regulation, and self-management.4 Management technique experts Six Sigma say that activities to develop emotional intelligence can boost both individual confidence and the team’s cohesiveness. These activities challenge participants to see from multiple perspectives, become better listeners, or communicate across obstacles. Emotional educator Adele P. Lynn suggests 50 ideas for team activities that improve emotional intelligence.

4. They Are CohesiveTeams_Icon_Cohesive.png

Before even devising the steps necessary to achieve the vision, the business owner or leader must ensure everyone believes the vision is attainable.

Team cohesiveness results from applying emotional intelligence to the team’s interactions. Provide opportunities for them to express appreciation for each other’s skills, and also their frustrations. For example, Xerox established an “opportunities” jar. Every time someone on the team was frustrated, they wrote it down and clipped it to a piece of play money worth anywhere from $1 to $100. High-dollar frustrations represented bigger opportunities to improve, but since there was a non-threatening way for the grievance to be aired, it could be viewed as an opportunity instead of a source of conflict.5 Cohesive teams also celebrate their successes together, like with a celebratory lunch or in-office party.

5. They Take Time OffTeams_Icon_Time Off.png

Taking time away from work to recharge and relax has been shown time and time again to have positive effects on workplace productivity. "Without time and opportunity to [relax], the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes," psychologist Deborah Mulhern told U.S. News in a feature piece about paid time off.6 That means not only does refusing to take time off harm productivity in the short-term, it can also make it more difficult to relax in the future.

Statistics show that one of the primary reasons employees avoid taking time off is the way they think their leave-taking is perceived. About 93% of managers surveyed by market research experts GfK believed taking time off was important for their employees, but 43% discuss taking time off with their employees once per year or less, while 61% of non-manager employees feel their managers are either ambivalent about them taking time off or outright disapprove of their taking time off.7 Make sure to encourage employees to take time off to keep them high-performing while they are at work.

Employee Time Off chart

These five habits won’t all take root overnight, but every day is an opportunity to keep growing. Whether you’re assembling a new team or strengthening an existing one, these approaches to communication and work-life balance should inform your strategy.