Top 10 Ways to Create High-Performance Teams: Part 1

Would you consider government a place for cultivating high-performance teams? Most consider the government as poison to efficiency and high performance. Anyone who has worked in government can tell you the truth. Creating efficiencies is a constant practice. High-performance teams are as prevalent in government as they are in private industry.

How is it possible to cultivate these teams in an environment that is wrapped tight in red tape and bureaucracy? Here are the top 10 ways to create high-performance teams in government.

We will cover the first 5 this week, let’s get started!

What is a High-Performance Team?

Wikipedia defines a high-performance team as a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents and skills, aligned with and committed to a common purpose – who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation – that produce superior results. The high-performance team is regarded as tight-knit, focused on their goal and has supportive processes that will enable any team member to surmount any barriers in achieving the team’s goals.

You do not really create a high-performance team, you cultivate it. You cannot force it to happen. People know when you are not genuine and forcing something only creates resistance. Leaders do not come up with team slogans and do not hang teamwork posters. Teams do it, leaders just allow the teams to be themselves:

1. Be a Great Leader

There are many characteristics to great leadership. Courage, passion, humility, vision, integrity, focus and cooperation are just a few. Study leadership and challenge yourself to be a great leader for your team.

Use your leadership to attract and select the right team members. Creating the right team composition really is step 0. Be a leader who others want to work with.

2. Ask the Right Questions

Leaders don’t tell people what to do. They facilitate an environment where team members do what needs to be done. A high-performance team knows what is required and doesn’t have to be told what to do. Your job is to find out what the team needs to accomplish the mission. You do that by asking the right questions.

The best all inclusive question you can ask is “What’s on your mind?” This opens the door to all kinds of insight. You really want to know what might be bothering them or what might be going right. By knowing what’s on peoples’ minds, you get a feel for inside the team. The more you do this, the more honest the responses you will receive.

What challenges are you facing?” is another good question. Remember, your job is to facilitate the team accomplishing their goals. Listen to the answers and take action if needed. One note of caution here – try to help them resolve the problem themselves when possible. Don’t automatically accept the responsibility to resolve it. However, when needed, step in and remove that barrier.

What are you hoping to achieve?” This is a good focus question when resolving problems. People often get caught up in the problem process and lose sight of the goal. Sometimes you need to reframe the problem and look at the desired result instead of the current problem.

One of the most basic questions that often gets overlooked is “What do you want?” This can be a career question, a problem question or a goal question. You are asking what they want and not what they need. It is important to be sincere and listen.

How can I help?” is always an important question. You are letting the team decide if and how you can help. High-performance teams do not typically need a lot of real help from you so don’t always expect a lot of answers. It is important to always ask this question though. When they do answer, make sure you listen and take action.

There are many more good questions you can ask your team. The important thing is to listen to the answers and follow through.

3. Listen

Listening to your team is more than being quiet and nodding your head. Listening means hearing what they are really saying.

The best way they can tell if you listen or not is by what you do during and after the conversation. Are you asking questions to clarify and restate what they have said?

Are you taking action to prove you listened and cared? Nobody is going to waste their time talking to someone about important things if nothing will come from it.

4. Break Down Barriers and Red Tape

People just want to work and get the job done. Barriers prevent them from doing that efficiently. There are many barriers out of team member’s control that leaders can help break down.

You can work to remove these barriers when they are identified. Sometimes they are policies that do not make sense anymore or other teams who are inflexible. Policies are like rope sometimes that only get tighter, loosen the rope when it makes sense.

You can also use policy to break down barriers and make things easier. Regulations and standards can make it hard to determine what is the best practice. Use policy to interpret regulations to create a clear set of rules that are much easier to follow. Keep the policy focused on removing barriers and not creating them.

5. Empower Team Members

You are already empowering your team by following these 10 steps but what are other things you can do to empower your team?

Set clear boundaries and delegate. Team members want to know where their boundaries are. Make sure they know what their responsibilities are and delegate it to them. Give them more control and you will be surprised.

Delegation is not about giving them your unwanted tasks. It is about giving them the freedom to manage themselves when it makes sense. For example, if you have a budget that includes their boundary, give it to them. Let them manage it.

That’s the first five ways to create high-performance teams. Next week, we will cover five more ways to create high-performance teams. Meanwhile, if you have comments or experience creating great teams, please share them.

For more great ideas about leadership, visit these fantastic articles by my fellow contributors: Building Great Teams that Get Great Things Done by Dr Tyrone Grandison and Top 5 Tips on Managing Millennials by Wilson Kimball.


Matthew Scott Eagles  is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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