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Qualities of High Performance Teams–

Katzenbach and Smith

Authors Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith have an interesting
perspective on high performance teams. The authors studied team work
across several companies and base their findings on case studies spanning
tough business environments and work challenges. Their findings expose
the factors that stimulate high performance in teams.

‘High performance teams typically reflect strong extensions of the basic

characteristics of teams’ .
According to their book The Wisdom of Teams, these strong extensions
grow out of an intense commitment to the team’s mutual purpose. The
qualities that distinguish a high performance team from other ordinary
teams can be summed up as follows:
High performance teams have:
A deeper sense of purpose.
Relatively more ambitious performance goals compared to the average
Better work approaches or complete approaches as the authors term it.
Mutual accountability; acknowledgement of their joint accountability
towards a common purpose in addition to individual obligations to
their specific roles.
Complementary skill set, and at times interchangeable skills.
The above points capture the qualities found in high performance teams
and these qualities are indeed stronger extensions of the factors that are
usually necessary and ideal for team work, some of which follow:

All teams need a sense of purpose and a clear cut mission.

All teams need the mission to be broken down into meaningful
performance goals for each team member to pursue.
All teams need to develop certain work approaches, procedures and
processes to ensure that they accomplish a task efficiently and
All teams have to support the common mission and take their individual
responsibility seriously to do their part in accomplishing a task.
All teams need a mix of skills, experience and expertise, in order to
meet the challenges of the team task.
In a high performance team, there seems to be a more advanced and full
blown application of all the qualities that teams need to have in a general
sense. But, the unique quality in a high performance team is that the
team members have an inbuilt need and ambition to go after bigger
challenges and they bring with them a work attitude and work ethic that
creates a deeper commitment to the collective mission.

Let’s study the qualities in high performance teams in greater detail. In

the context of ‘a deeper sense of purpose’ and ‘relatively more ambitious
performance goals’ as mentioned above, an analogy can explain better
the difference between a high performance team and an average team:

It is akin to the difference between a top seeded tennis player like Roger
Federer and another player still striving to find his feet on the tennis
circuit. The top seed has fine-tuned his game technique, is determined to
play a winning game and is ready for any challenge. Another player who
is yet to make a mark probably lacks the same intensity and certainly and
has a thing or two to learn about both technique as well as perseverance.

Work approaches are another determinant in team performance. Work

approaches comprise a whole host of team work processes such as:

Decision making norms within the team.

Approach to creativity in problem solving.
Work standards that conform to accepted industry norms and practices.
Methods for using team meetings effectively.
The team process for completing a task from start to finish, and so on.
When a team is able to crack this aspect of team work and successfully
integrate various aspects of its functioning, it paves the way for a far
better team performance than a team where they struggle to find
mutually acceptable methods to move the team work forward. For
example, better work approaches can ensure better planning and
scheduling of activities, quicker decisions, rapid response to customers,
meeting deadlines, etc.

Mutual accountability is the collective responsibility of the team towards

generating results and achieving success. Mutual accountability implies an
implicit acknowledgement of the joint accountability of all team members
towards a common purpose, in addition to the individual obligations in
their specific roles. This creates a supportive environment within the team
and the performance of the team improves in the presence of this type of
mutual support and cohesion.

Complementary skills are a necessity in most teams. Most team tasks

require multiple skills and the when the team members have
complementary skills that are well balanced and congruent to the task, it
is bound to raise the team performance. Interchangeable skills can be
asset in some businesses, since the team members can depend on one
another to jointly accomplish a task.

Besides these qualities, ‘Shared leadership’ is another factor highlighted

by Katzenbach and Smith. It is a fairly recent concept that is gaining
ground and is seen as important to facilitate high performance in teams.
It calls for a great deal of personal initiative from individual team
members. Read this related article to understand this concept better:
Shared leadership sustains high performance in teams

To sum up, the qualities that seem to foster high team performance are
primarily a cut above that of an average team. It is certainly not easy to
create a high performance team with all these qualities, but an
organisation can provide the building blocks with a few necessary
measures such as the following-

1. Make the attempt to set challenging and inspiring performance

goals especially when you come across teams that are
achievement driven
2. Encourage personal initiative and develop individual leadership
3. Create the most appropriate team mix with the right combination
of skills
4. Pay heed to the team’s training needs to help them develop better
work approaches so that they accomplish their tasks in better
These few measure may prove to be the magic formula seen in the
findings of Katzenbach and Smith for a better team performance.

How to set goals that inspire high team performance

Setting Goals that Inspire High Team

Goal clarity is critical for teams to proceed on their common mission, but
cut and dried goals that provide task direction but no challenge or
performance criteria normally will not produce the desired results. Goals
are a major factor in motivation. Let’s study a well know theory called the
Goal-setting theory proposed by Dr. Edwin A. Locke.

Goal-Setting Theory
The basic principle in this theory is:

Goals that are specific have the potential to increase performance.

Difficult to achieve goals, when accepted, have the potential to generate a
much higher level of performance than easy goals.

When a person or a team takes on a tough challenge they tend to rise to

the occasion and deliver a performance that corresponds to the challenge
in the task.

In a Nut Shell:
Goals have to be specific, not general
Goals have to be challenging, yet realistic
Let’s try and understand this theory better. It implies that a generalized
goal that says ‘do your best’ is just not good enough to fire up and
energize the team performance. ‘Do your best’ is the kind of thing a
parent would say to a child who is off to school to write an exam. Parents
normally would not want to pressurise their children by making specific
statements like ‘you must get the highest marks in your Class’. In a
professional environment involving teams, the exact opposite will work in
generating a good performance! Teams that are given general guidelines
and asked to ‘do your best’, are unlikely to succeed. A high team
performance is a lot more probable when the goals are specific and
present a challenge that is perceived to be realistic and attainable by the

Performance Orientation
Now, let’s take the goal-setting theory one step further and look at ‘goals
that inspire a high team performance’. This means, goals have to be
not only specific and challenging but also inspiring and performance
oriented if they are to create high performance. So, what do we mean by
performance orientation?

When a team sets out on a common mission, they need a clear

understanding of the results expected of them. The task has to have
certain performance benchmarks associated with it. That’s when teams
are challenged to go after performance excellence. Any team setting out
on a task will do better when the results and performance expected of
them takes centre stage. Performance orientation is the use of goal
setting to link team goals to organisation performance. Performance
orientation with an eye on business results has the potential to deliver far
better results from a team.

Let’s say that a team is presented with a task, and given specific tough
goals that test their skills to the maximum. At the same time the goals
are defined in such a way that they inspire and energise the team effort
because of the customer focus inherent in them. When teams see their
mission as important in helping the organisation address its customer
challenges, it has the potential to create a better performance oriented
work ethic. Performance orientation factors in the business results
expected from the team and calls for a greater degree of effort and
involvement in achieving results.

The First Signs of an Ineffective Team

Businesses are becoming more aware that they can suffer as a
consequence of ineffective teamwork. Some teams, for example:

Don’t gel together

Are not cohesive in their approach
Don’t see eye to eye
Can't resolve conflict or professional disagreements that crop up
This can be a nightmare for companies and can come up quite regularly.
The symptoms that a team is not working are initially vague, however
they can gradually steam roll into huge problems that affect the team’s
performance. The type of statements that are initially heard (or
overheard) from the team members are something to this effect:

‘Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to look into that issue’

‘Weren’t you supposed to draw up the document, I thought you would
be handling it’
‘I wasn’t sure which one of us was going to visit the field; my
understanding was that it was going to be you’
‘That’s not my job; Tom was supposed to handle it’
‘I was not aware of it, nobody informed me’
What seems at the outset as a miscommunication can actually be a huge
symptom that most companies miss. It can mean the team members are
not talking often enough, not consulting each other, not sharing
information and not interacting enough. The result is team performance
that is below par, with unnecessary blunders.

Communication glitches are more than just simple

miscommunication. It is important to be wary of this first symptom.
This is a warning sign that other problems could exist in the team. If you
want to avoid the adverse effects then actively look for ways to identify
the real problem and work out a solution

Identifying Symptoms of Team

Tim runs a small business and is a long time customer of a software firm
that put together his information systems. There had been some staff
turnover in the software firm over the years, but the quality of the work
and service they offered was always maintained. They had a good working

However in the last year things had changed; there was a new team that
handled his work, and things hadn't been the same since then. Initially it
was small glitches that he ignored given the long-time association he had
with the firm, but now the problems seemed to be escalating. Deadlines
were constantly missed, and he was not kept informed of the delays.
Everybody on the team was extremely intelligent and competent but they
never seemed to provide a service of the same quality.

A few months back Tim had a meeting with Mark the team leader and
discussed the problems with him. He was given an assurance that Mark
would look into the matter so the problems would not crop up again.

However, this wasn't the case, the new software module that the team
installed had serious problems and didn't meet up with the requirements
laid out in the brief. Tim felt he had no choice but to ask for a meeting
with the Managing Director of the firm to express his concerns.

The warning signs that things are not quite right within a team become
evident to the people who interact with the team long before major
problems set in. These warning signs usually manifest in certain types of
behaviour or performance related problems. Assessment of a team usually
takes place at two levels:

a) The process and the behavioural aspects of teamwork b) The output

from the teamwork and performance of the team

The symptoms of team ineffectiveness can be gauged by observing the

process followed and behavioural aspects that are evident within the
team. For example; the way they talk to and about each other.

Symptoms to watch out for:

Friction and disagreements

Hearing complaints or gossip from various sources
Lack of loyalty towards one another
Attention and energy focused outside of the teams objectives
Team members being absent from work or scheduled team meetings
Poor co-ordination of team activities, disorganized and chaotic handling
of tasks
Falling behind on deadlines or inability to meet targets
Drop in the efficiency or productivity level of the team
Consequences of an Ineffective Team: The problems within the team
can eventually translate into problems for the company, impacting either
on the bottom line or in its business relationships, e.g:

Customer complaints could increase

Revenue losses because of business going to another firm
No success in any of the new business pitches made by the team
It is important for companies to act immediately if they see any of these
symptoms of team ineffectiveness and investigate the cause, a few
examples of which are below:

Role clarity
Lack of clear cut goals
Poor leadership
Inadequate training
Differences in work styles
Poor planning
Don’t Take the “I” Out of Teamwork
The use of the word “I” is often berated as the reason why teams lack
cohesion. It is seen as an attitude conflicting with the basic principles of
teamwork. It is considered the nemesis of team spirit and unity. But the
use of “I” is negative only when it is overused or used in the wrong place
at the wrong time. Every team member brings expertise, skills, knowledge
and individual viewpoints built up over years of experience. It is therefore
far fetched to assume that anyone can take the “I” out of a person. For a
team to be effective, the team members need to have a strong sense of
“I” to achieve excellence in their individual roles, and they also need a
strong sense of “we” for team cohesion and collaborative work. Both go
hand in hand.

Achievement oriented people have a strong sense of self worth and an

innate drive that comes from sheer belief in their own capabilities.
Teamwork is all about putting together individual skills to amplify the
quality of the output from the group effort. An organisation has to build on
and develop individual strengths and nurture individual self-worth so that
each team member is able to contribute optimally. Every individual hopes
for personal recognition and this is in addition to the accolades that a
team gets collectively when they put up a good performance. Individual
effort has to be given its due for the person to feel charged up and driven
to perform even better. “I” therefore has a definite place within a team:

“I” is essential for personal development“I” is essential for self-

esteem “I” is essential for motivation“I” is essential for
involvement and contribution“I” is essential for the quality of the

Effective teams know the right time and place for the word “I”. “I” has a
place for a person when he or she is conversing or discussing issues
within a team. “I” also has a place during appraisal meetings or review
sessions with a team leader or team manager.

These were my goals six months back when we discussed my role within
the team and what is expected of me. This is what I have accomplished.

However, when a team member represents the team outside this close
knit set up, i.e., with a client, a customer or senior management, “we” is
the politically right usage. The use of “we” implies unity and signals
collective effort, consensus, cohesion and cooperation. The use of “we”
creates confidence that the combined knowledge of the team was at play
in developing a good proposal or good recommendations. When one or
more team members harp on “I”, it indicates some amount of dissent or
lack of unity within the team to the client at the receiving end.

When individuals feel secure that their contribution will be recognised and
rewarded, there is a better chance of them getting fully involved in the
team process. Unhealthy competition and unnecessary rivalry can take
energy and focus away from the task. If you want to sustain team
effectiveness it is imperative that an organisation pay heed to individual
aspirations. There is no “we” until the “I” is secure. In other words, the
team cannot function to full potential unless individuals are motivated to
give their best to the team process.

In conclusion, the usage of both “I” and “we” have a definite place in

“I” represents belief in the self and the quest for

accomplishments. “We” represents commitment and allegiance to
the team effort.

If you take the “I” out of the equation you will in all probability be left with
a listless and lack lustre work output where the team members may get
along o.k. but nothing great and truly outstanding ever comes out of the

Problem-Solution Grid

Detection of the Core Issues: Behaviours or Team Issues Associated

Problem: Type of with that Problem

1.Errant Team Egos, rivalry, mistrust unhealthy competition, interpersonal a) To


2. Listless Team Type a) Low motivation, no enthusiasm and drive, the task a) Int
does not adequately challenge the mind Type b) Poor progr
innovative thinking ability

3. Incompetent Team Knowledge gaps, inadequate expertise, poorly thought out Deve

4. Hotchpotch Team Wrong mix of people - the work approaches, thinking Revie
patterns, and personality types don’t jell for the task the te

5. Confused Team Poor role clarity, poor understanding of business goals a) Dis

6. Inefficient Team Disorganized, poor time management, poor management of a) Inf

resources, no co-ordination and cooperation time

7. Unproductive Poorly conducted meetings, poor understanding of business Work

Team interaction, poor decision making capacity intera
The suggested solutions are explained below in greater detail:

Errant Team: This type of team has to be treated the way a football
coach would talk to an underperforming team. They need a firm hand.
Tough talking could be the answer. Portray how the business suffers as a
consequence of poor team cohesion. You can build a case for the
organisation being much bigger than the individual. The message should
be, ‘Guys, you need to get your act together, you are a disaster. You have
to stop unnecessary bickering and focus on the task’. To rectify mistrust,
the solution could be informal team building games where the team
members are induced to let their guard down and start working together.
Listless Team: This kind of team probably lacks the right challenge in
their work and they feel that their talents are not fully utilised in their
current team roles. The solution may lie in firing up their interest with
more challenging assignments. However, in a situation where there is an
adequate challenge but the team is unable to think creatively, this type of
team needs programs that will help them think out-of-the-box. They need
guidance on viewing problems differently rather than conventionally. They
need exposure to case studies and examples where taking an off beat
path yielded major improvements in business performance.

Incompetent Team: When the problem has been identified as

‘knowledge gaps’, the HR department of an organisation has to step in to
create suitable programs for the team. They have to involve experts
within the organisation in conducting classroom style training modules.
The team leader has to pay close attention to on-the-job training for the
team. The team should also be given the opportunity to attend industry
seminars so that they build their knowledge through the experiences and
learning of other industry professionals.

Hotchpotch Team: The team-mix may have to be reassessed and tools

such as HBDI, MBTI or Belbin Roles can be used by the organisation to
see if they can turn around the team by inducting a more appropriate
profile of people into it.

Confused Team: This is probably one of the easiest to solve because all
it takes is a frank discussion with the team. The team leader has to
ensure that everyone is crystal clear on the mission and common
objectives of the team and their individual roles and responsibilities.
Written role descriptions and goal definitions are also useful since they
provide a ready reference point whenever there is a doubt. In addition,
role play sessions can be engineered to drive home the point.
Performance benchmarks are also advised to induce the team to stay on

Inefficient Team: Mishandling is the hallmark of such a team. It could

be cost overruns, time overruns and in general, wastage of resources.
One way to set it right is by fixing accountability. Good team building
programs are necessary to facilitate better cohesion, coordination and co-
operation. And, time-management workshops can help the team learn
techniques in using time more efficiently.

Unproductive team: This is a problem faced by a team when they don’t

use the team process well. Their decision making methods are faulty, so
their strategies and recommendations are weak. They need a slight nudge
in the right direction through workshops in areas such as group
interaction, evaluation of alternatives, healthy debate, resolving
disagreements, and in arriving at a group consensus.

The team never delivers on time.

They don’t seem to understand the task.
The team members constantly interrupt each other and vie for attention.
There is a lot of chaos.
There are no good ideas coming out of the team.
They don’t seem to know their facts.
There is no confidence in the teams ability to deliver.

Ten Qualities of an
Effective Team Player
By Marty Brounstein
If you were choosing team members for a business
team in your organization, who would the best
team players be? Assuming that people have the
right technical skills for the work to be done, what
other factors would you use to select your team
Teams need strong team players to perform well.
But what defines such people? Read on.
Demonstrates reliability
You can count on a reliable team member who
gets work done and does his fair share to work
hard and meet commitments. He or she follows
through on assignments. Consistency is key. You
can count on him or her to deliver good performance
all the time, not just some of the time.
Communicates constructively
Teams need people who speak up and express
their thoughts and ideas clearly, directly, honestly,
and with respect for others and for the work of the
team. That's what it means to communicate
constructively. Such a team member does not shy
away from making a point but makes it in the best
way possible — in a positive, confident, and
respectful manner.
Listens actively
Good listeners are essential for teams to function
effectively. Teams need team players who can
absorb, understand, and consider ideas and points
of view from other people without debating and
arguing every point. Such a team member also can
receive criticism without reacting defensively. Most
important, for effective communication and problem
solving, team members need the discipline to
listen first and speak second so that meaningful
dialogue results.
Functions as an active participant
Good team players are active participants. They
come prepared for team meetings and listen and
speak up in discussions. They're fully engaged in
the work of the team and do not sit passively on
the sidelines.
Team members who function as active participants
take the initiative to help make things happen, and
they volunteer for assignments. Their whole
approach is can-do: "What contribution can I make
to help the team achieve success?"
Shares openly and willingly
Good team players share. They're willing to share
information, knowledge, and experience. They take
the initiative to keep other team members
Much of the communication within teams takes
place informally. Beyond discussion at organized
meetings, team members need to feel comfortable
talking with one another and passing along
important news and information day-to-day. Good
team players are active in this informal sharing.
They keep other team members in the loop with
information and expertise that helps get the job
done and prevents surprises.
Cooperates and pitches in to help
Cooperation is the act of working with others and
acting together to accomplish a job. Effective team
players work this way by second nature. Good
team players, despite differences they may have
with other team members concerning style and
perspective, figure out ways to work together to
solve problems and get work done. They respond
to requests for assistance and take the initiative to
offer help.
Exhibits flexibility
Teams often deal with changing conditions — and
often create changes themselves. Good team
players roll with the punches; they adapt to ever-
changing situations. They don't complain or get
stressed out because something new is being tried
or some new direction is being set.
In addition, a flexible team member can consider
different points of views and compromise when
needed. He or she doesn't hold rigidly to a point of
view and argue it to death, especially when the
team needs to move forward to make a decision or
get something done. Strong team players are firm
in their thoughts yet open to what others have to
offer — flexibility at its best.
Shows commitment to the team
Strong team players care about their work, the
team, and the team's work. They show up every
day with this care and commitment up front. They
want to give a good effort, and they want other
team members to do the same.
Works as a problem-solver
Teams, of course, deal with problems. Sometimes,
it appears, that's the whole reason why a team is
created — to address problems. Good team players
are willing to deal with all kinds of problems in a
solutions-oriented manner. They're problem-
solvers, not problem-dwellers, problem-blamers, or
problem-avoiders. They don't simply rehash a
problem the way problem-dwellers do. They don't
look for others to fault, as the blamers do. And
they don't put off dealing with issues, the way
avoiders do.
Team players get problems out in the open for
discussion and then collaborate with others to find
solutions and form action plans.
Treats others in a respectful and supportive
Team players treat fellow team members with
courtesy and consideration — not just some of the
time but consistently. In addition, they show
understanding and the appropriate support of
other team members to help get the job done.
They don't place conditions on when they'll provide
assistance, when they'll choose to listen, and when
they'll share information. Good team players also
have a sense of humor and know how to have fun
(and all teams can use a bit of both), but they don't
have fun at someone else's expense. Quite simply,
effective team players deal with other people in a
professional manner.
Team players who show commitment don't come
in any particular style or personality. They don't
need to be rah-rah, cheerleader types. In fact, they
may even be soft-spoken, but they aren't passive.
They care about what the team is doing and they
contribute to its success — without needing a
Team players with commitment look beyond their
own piece of the work and care about the team's
overall work. In the end, their commitment is about
winning — not in the sports sense of beating your
opponent but about seeing the team succeed and
knowing they have contributed to this success.
Winning as a team is one of the great motivators of
employee performance. Good team players have
and show this motivation.

Read more: http://www.dummies.com/how-










Mission Conscious




Solution Oriented


What is Teamwork?

Teamwork is defined in Webster's New World

Dictionary as "a joint action by a group of people,
in which each person subordinates his or her
individual interests and opinions to the unity and
efficiency of the group." This does not mean that
the individual is no longer important; however, it
does mean that effective and efficient teamwork
goes beyond individual accomplishments. The
most effective teamwork is produced when all the
individuals involved harmonize their contributions
and work towards a common goal.

Let’s now look at the other side of the coin, success. If success is what
the team is after, then what is it that is expected of teams? What should
they do to be successful?

Understand their goals

Interact, communicate effectively, explore ideas and innovative
Be loyal, co-operative, willing to share information and lend a
helping hand
Understand market realities and develop a sound strategy
Keep time frames in mind
Know their responsibility within the team and focus on results