How to create a High Performance Team from the start

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How to start up your team to become a High Performing Team?

If you do it by the book you will most likely focus on the members of the team and on the tasks they have to perform.

There’s nothing wrong with that unless… you leave it at that.

What else is needed then? You have to bring the team to life!

Talking about team composition, team goals, task distributions, communication channels, etcetera is certainly necessary. Team members have to know about that. But… it does not bring the team to life.

What brings a team to life?
Living the project at hand brings the team to life!

Why is that so?

Well… most of the tasks which the team members have to perform are routine tasks. They have done these things before. This is self-evident because it rarely happens that we bring people together to perform tasks which they are not familiar with. We want experienced people, don’t we?

The problem is that when you bring people together to start a team their compasses are aimed in one direction: “what am I supposed to do?”. The problem is hidden in one letter of this sentence: “I”. Now, irrespective of how many “I’s” you bring together, they will not automatically form a “WE”.

And that is what they are not experienced in. Transforming a number of “I’s” into one “WE”. At least not with this particular group of people in the context of this particular project.

Over the years we have done a particular experiment with all kinds of groups to find out what happens when the team is brought to life and what happens when the group just discusses the goal, the tasks, etcetera.

This is what we discovered about the differences between a High Performing Team and a Low Performing Team at the start:

Characteristics of a High Performing TeamCharacteristics of a Low Performing Team
Rapid interaction among team members
Informal, unstructured discussion
Involvement of all members
Trying to find a common level of ambition
Creative thinking dominates
Slow interaction among team members
More formal discussion. Structured by a chairperson.
No involvement of some team members
Emphasizing different views on what to accomplish
Pragmatic thinking dominates

What makes these difference emerge?
The team leader!

How? The difference is simple but crucial. In the case of High Performing Teams the team leader asks the group –which is not yet a team- to live through the project as a team. In the case of Low Performing Teams the team leader asks the group to develop a plan for the project.

How do you get your team to live through the project as a team?

The general answer is: Identify the 2-3 crucial problems for the team in this project. Challenges which only the team-as-a-team can handle successfully.  And ask the team to solve one or two of these problems. Here-and-now.

For example, one of these crucial team problems might be that it concerns a virtual team with team members working at different locations. What might we do in such a case is: Ask the team members to sit in a circle, back to back (so they can’t see each other). Throw in a relevant project issue like “how are we going to keep track of progress?”. And ask the team to solve the issue within 15 minutes or so.

Fifteen minutes is enough, because what you really want is the team to live through the project as a team.
They will become aware of a “WE”, whatever the solution they come with.