Winning businesses run on winning teams. That’s why 90% of investors think a high performing team is the most important factor when deciding whether or not to invest in an IPO. Only a team driven approach can address customer needs as they change over time and become more complex.


Step 1 – Invest in Team Building

So how does one go about developing a team? Its not just about off sites and trust falls, the most important aspect of developing a high performing team comes before anyone has even met. First, define the team’s success measures. Next, make your desired team norms explicit; write them down, share them, and get people to agree to them ahead of time. Finally, be transparent about the process. Treat your team as partners in team development and make it collaborative. Then you will be well on your way to creating a high performance environment.

Step 2 – Focus on Co-opetition

Teams perform well when there is a high level of cooperation between members and low levels of internal competition. However, teams perform best when there is a high level of external competition. Therefore, it is important to create incentive structures and success measures that are not zero sum. The incentive structure should reward individual contribution only if it moves the team towards its shared goal. It should also include external benchmarks based on your competition or the market; its not very good to grow 10% in a 15% growth industry! Finally, build in reward mechanisms and reinforce team norms that discourage group think or an over-reliance on consensus.

Step 3 – Get Communication Right

In our experience, the single most important part of good team communication is familiarizing yourself with bypassing and eliminating from your team. This alone will ensure that people are clear in their responsibilities and deliverables. Next, team’s frequently focus on old information, wasting precious time rehashing old information. The focus should be on sharing new information and unique insights. Build this into your meetings by setting an agenda that explicitly calls for this new inputs. You also need to watch for group-think in your team, if there’s no devil’s advocate, make one. Assign a devil’s advocate for each meeting until it is second nature. Finally, make sure your team is living up to the explicit team norms from step one and that communication is clear, honest, and promoting creative solutions that drive value for your customers.

Step 4 – Actively Manage Conflict

Conflict can be a poison pill for even the highest performing teams. That’s why it is so important to be proactive in managing it. For instance, is your team engaging in net-positive task focused conflict or more destructive personal conflict? An argument over the best way to increase revenue is task oriented while two people sabotaging the other’s revenue growth plans would be personal conflict. Its important to focus feedback on impact and outcomes while a decision is being reached, not people. When conflict does arise, have a conflict management SOP so all parties know exactly what’s coming down the pipeline. Lastly, know when to use different conflict management techniques to move the team closer to its goal.

Step 5 – Promote Healthy Sources of Power & Influence

There are two major sources of power and influence in an organization, social and formal. Social power generally comes from being well respected and knowing how things work in the organization. Formal, or coercive power, is the type that derives from org charts and titles. Be on the look out for “because I said so” moments from your management as it can lead to an unhappy and unproductive workforce. Moreover, take the time for self reflection and consider how your actions are impacting the team and the implicit team norms. Wherever possible, recognize and incentivize empowerment behaviors through a formal program that rewards speaking out and new improvement initiatives.