High Performing Teams: The Key is the Team not an Individual

Home » Culture & Structure » High Performing Teams: The Key is the Team not an Individual

All too often we re-learn a lesson that we should already know when it comes to hiring people. 

We have a team that’s not performing as well as it should. We decide to hire a superstar with another team to lead or ignite your team. Based on the person’s history, we hire the person. Several months later, we discover that nothing has changed. Further investigation explains why: the key to the high performance of the prior team was the team itself, not the individual.

David Burkus in What Differentiates High Performing Teams, addresses the reasons: it was the team that had the talent. A superstar in a non-talented team may not be able to produce the desired results. He focuses on indicators of the team’s excellence, including:

  • Their “bursty” communication style: As with other couples/groups, their cohesion means they can finish other people’s sentences.
  • Their respectful conflict: they embrace differences of opinion and debate them with a focus on finding the best solutions
  • They constantly build authentic relationships that go beyond the work-activities
  • They offer generous appreciation to each other. Dr. Ron Friedman found that individuals on high performance teams were 44%more likely to compliment or praise each other for their work.

Three take-away lessons:

  • Before hiring a person who claims to be the superstar of a very successful team, find out about the team itself. What role did the person truly play? (A client of mine was ready to hire the marketing director of an 8-person team with great success. By digging into the daily activities of the person it became obvious that the person was a coordinator – taking direction from the other people!)
  • Understand the context. In a recent hiring of another person who was not having a lot of success, but seemed capable, it was discovered that every worker was virtual, never met anyone else, and engaged in minimum (task-only) conversations. So the potential benefits of collaboration was nil. 
  • Consider hiring part or all of the team if you want a high performing one, instead of just one “superstar” member. Over time, a team “compounds” its experiences and wisdom and may be more successful than a group of individuals. As I write this, I know of a new company that is hiring away successful teams from its competitors!

What are you doing to create, measure and nurture your high-performing teams?