Creating Your High-Performing Team

Over my two-plus decades of working with industry, academia, and government, I have seen poor leadership destroy teams, and I have worked with dream teams. Here are my 6 key approaches to ensure that your team has the support and leadership they need to be the best.

6. Enjoy the humans and the work. I hated putting this one last so much that I moved it to the top, because it is so important. You’ve got to actually like what you’re doing and the people that do that type of work. As a scientist that was working within an engineering organization, I was definitely a foreigner. I couldn’t speak their language at first, and, frankly, they didn’t see the value that I added to the project. But I hung in there and just wore down their distain with unabashed enjoyment and loyalty to the team. It took about a year for the last holdout to appreciate my contributions to the project, and that was finally when I took an annoying issue off his plate and handled it.

Love the mission, love the people.

1. Get organized. Ill-defined roles and responsibilities are disaster for a team. It results in duplication of work (which good staff absolutely hate – it’s a waste of their time!), or something not getting done (which stakeholders hate). If you don’t have this sorted, get it straightened out immediately.

2. The right mix. A reliable reporting structure provides peace-of-mind to leadership and prevents unnecessary interruption of staff’s time for updates or status. Do not take away the time that your team has to focus on getting the work done. For a large team, I like a mixture of quick in-person check-ins with key team leaders, milestone meetings for key project work, and big-picture meetings a few times a year. Figure out what works for you and your team. On the flip side – don’t overburden with meetings and reports – they have to have time to get the work done.

3. Consistancy. Nothing derails a team more than constant change. It’s not that you can’t alter the course, or modify approaches. In fact, some companies in tech have to be nimble all the time. But, that very flexibility is a constant. If leadership decided that they were going take on a 2-year development model instead of their normal 6-week sprint, the team would lose their minds. Manage your changes well and thoughtfully. You’ll lose your team if you don’t.

4. Collaborate. You have a team of experts at your fingertips. Use their knowledge and creativity to help solve thorny problems or brainstorm next steps. Take their input and apply it to your vision. The organization benefits, the team members know that you value them, and they have some skin in the game regarding strategic direction. A word of warning – I have seen this approach backfire when leadership dismisses their team’s input. If you don’t take on their recommendations, be sure to explain why.

5. Communicate. Never surprise anyone if you can help it (as in bad surprise). The easiest (and quickest!) way to break trust is to not tell your team what is going on. And, it takes about a million times longer to fix a bad surprise than it does to just tell someone the news in the first place, even if they won’t like it (there’s that resistance to awkward conversations, again – see January’s blog).

Your team should be the first ones to know what something big is happening in the organization. They should never be surprised by a colleague or competitor. When the hallway conversations happen, you want them to be able to say – “Yes, we’ve already discussed that on our team.”

If you want a high-performing team, treat them well, keep them informed, stay out of their way, and leverage their collective energy and cleverness when you need it. They’ll love you right back. And prove it with productivity and performance over and over again.