How to lead high-performance teams

Team and team leader meeting on the factory floor
Key takeaways
  • High-performance teams require strong leadership to coach and support them throughout a project
  • Leaders sustain high performance in teams by communicating effectively and providing regular feedback
  • Leaders aim to develop self-directed teams that are highly motivated, and collaborate and solve their own problems
12 December 2022 – A team leader directly impacts the team’s performance. They provide the necessary support and structure to build a high-performance team that instinctively collaborates and innovates to deliver quality results. This blog outlines the team leader’s actions that are essential to leading high-performance teams.

Leading high-performance teams

High-performance teams are high-energy, collaborative groups. They are the playground and workbench for capable people with strong and respectful voices who understand and appreciate the power of aligning diverse perspectives. It is the performance and dynamic of the team that is intrinsically rewarding for all members, and the results produced are far superior to what any one individual in the team could possibly generate.

However, teams still need great leaders who are the key to maintaining their high performance – especially in today’s hybrid work environment.


Download the how-to guide Building high-performance teams to find out how to develop teams that achieve consistently superior results.

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The team leader should carry out the following actions to encourage and sustain a high level of collaboration and interdependency:


1. Build relationships with team members

Building and leading high-performance teams begins with connection. Get to know the people on the team, their communication style and how they like to receive feedback. What motivates them? Show a genuine interest in who they are.

Building these individual relationships makes team members feel valued, which increases their motivation to perform well. In addition, it also helps you assign relevant roles to team members, keeping their natural skills in mind.


2. Clearly communicate roles and expectations

At the start of a project, facilitate introductions and highlight each person’s skills, background and role within the team.

Team members also need to understand how each of their roles is linked to every other role. Develop a common language and common processes, and an approach that allows these individuals to align their roles and function as a team. Also establish clear objectives and expectations of the team.

In a high-performance team, there is cross-training in other responsibilities to ensure that everyone can back one another up if the need arises. This opportunity for variety in jobs provides scope for innovation and performance. Cross-training also gives team members a greater awareness of how their jobs are interdependent, increasing the team’s flexibility and improving response time.


3. Monitor progress and give timely feedback

Teams need regular feedback on their progress – this is crucial to the effectiveness of the team.

To sustain high performance, it is vital to exploit the power of positive feedback, constructive probing and direct communication to ensure that all issues are addressed openly and respectfully. The quality of the team’s response is highly dependent on the timeliness of the feedback received from the team’s leader, other team members and customers.


4. Provide regular support and training

Offer support and encouragement to build the team’s confidence and reduce their stress levels. Ask questions and listen carefully to the team’s concerns.

Always ensure team members have corrected any mistakes based on prior feedback. If not, address this quickly – but help team members see these mistakes as opportunities for improvement.

You want to build and grow your people, which will make them happier and perform better. But growth often requires that team members acknowledge any mistakes or process issues, and find ways to improve the process and performance. Develop skills and provide further training in problem-solving techniques, for example.


5. Resolve conflicts immediately

When team members are collaborating on a project, conflicts may occur at any point. Team members may have differing opinions about how to get a job done based on their own knowledge or experience.

In high-performance teams, conflicts often energize the team and encourage creative thinking. But if a conflict decreases team morale and cooperation, it is destructive and needs to be addressed in a direct and supportive manner.


Here are a few pointers to dealing with conflict effectively:
  • Don’t ignore conflict; confront it as soon as you become aware of it
  • Brainstorm a solution collaboratively and develop an action plan
  • Provide objective guidance and support to resolve the conflict
  • Hold team members accountable for delivering on all steps of the action plan
  • Act as a mediator so that each team member can tell their side of the story


6. Develop self-directed teams

Although teams – including high-performance teams – need strong leadership to guide them and help them achieve their goals, you should gradually empower teams to become self-directed teams that require little supervision in planning and performing their day-to-day work. These teams start making more decisions regarding production, customer service and suppliers, selecting new team members, and managing their budgets.

When teams manage themselves, they collaborate and solve their own problems – which helps encourage ideas and continuous improvement. Self-directed teams are more engaged and agile, and feel a greater sense of accountability, ownership and pride.


7. Celebrate successes and brainstorm challenges

When leading high-performance teams, it is crucial to celebrate wins together, and recognize and reward individual contributions during a project – a powerful motivator. But recognize not only ”what” is achieved, but ”how” it is achieved. Endorsing effective behaviors through celebrating their existence paves the way to establishing a culture in the team that will allow its high performance to be sustained more easily.

At the end of a project, meet with the team to discuss the entire project. Acknowledge accomplishments, brainstorm any challenges experienced and ask what support is needed in future.

Remember: A ‘‘willingness’’ to participate collaboratively as a team member does not guarantee the desired outcome. People thrown into a collaborative situation – especially those without experience operating in this mode – need good leadership to guarantee success in both a remote or physical work environment.

Download the how-to guide Driving employee engagement on the CI journey and find out how to keep your people collaborating and innovating.

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