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The Elusive High Performance Team

In the 80’s high performance teams were the craze. Project management was just coming into its own and teams were getting more and more attention, but today we talk about and observe them with little fan fair. Although high performance teams have become “untrendy” their importance to projects is still extremely significant.

The continuum of team performance is very broad. Most of us do not really know what a high performance team looks like and the average employee has never been involved in one due to their rarity. However, most employees can spot a low performing team in a heartbeat.

Why is it so rare to witness or experience a high performance team? Well, many factors have arisen in organizations that inhibit their existence: virtual employees that allow for little face to face interaction, matrix environments that encourage allegiance to home organizations instead of project teams, and resource management philosophies and tools that strive for partial assignments and attention. Plus, the price of creating a high performance team is immense. Tremendous amounts of resources and time is required to create them.

But, with the correct environment and resources, the benefits of high performance teams are invaluable due to their ability to generate contributions that are greater than the sum of their individual team members. It is all about synergy. Synergy motivates team members through support from one another, generates better solutions through diversity, and sustains performance through shared efforts. Two great examples of successful high performance teams are revealed in the movie “Miracle on Ice” that details the journey of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team to a gold medal and the more recent book “Lone Survivor” that describes the training and events of a specific Navy SEAL team.

Many factors contribute to teams reaching the high performance level: a single well understood vision; appropriate levels of autonomy; acceptance of diversity in skill, personality, character, and work style; strong individual performance; and a mindset that puts the team’s interest above their own are the biggest contributors.

So, in today’s environment, what can you hope for out of your teams? It depends on your organization and your team’s practices. If no inhibitors exist in your organization and you are practicing traits that encourage high performance then you can expect some good results. But, if your organization and practices are inhibited then the best you can hope for is that some work will get accomplished and little negative impact will result from it.

This is a clear case of the solutions intended to create benefits in other areas causing unintended consequences. All of these efforts to optimize resource utilization are undermining the performance of teams and individuals. What is actually meant to create efficiencies is causing inefficiencies. This isn’t being done intentionally; it is just a just a human system error that has to be played out. Unfortunately, you may be stuck in the middle and there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is work to the best of your ability with the team and environment you have.

Hang in there.