What Is a High Performing Team?

A high-performing team refers to a group of multi-talented individuals with specialized expertise and harmonious skills who collaborate, innovate and produce consistent, top-quality results.

High performing teams don’t just happen overnight, but competent project managers with great leadership skills can help motivate, coach and inspire teams. Don’t underestimate the talent required to lead, collaborate and deliver your portfolio of projects.

Project leaders and contributing individual team members can benefit from a variety of self-assessment tools to better understand themselves as a leader or contributor on your high performing team. Many of these tools in the chart below can benefit teams that are local, distributed, remote and virtual.

What Makes a Great High Performing Team?

Strategies to hire new talent are easy to develop, but what about actually creating a high performing team? Over the years, a great deal of psychology research on principles, identified behaviors and competencies have surfaced to define the makeup of a high performing team. These are only a few promising insights into the complexity of teams and how to improve their performance.


In a recent article by Real World Group, these five success principles were identified to aid in the engagement, collaboration, and success of a high performing team:

1.      Identify what unites us

2.      Work together on how to achieve the shared vision

3.      Build team potency

4.      Be clear on roles and responsibilities

1.      Create a culture of learning and psychological safety

It’s not rocket science, but it is a more in-depth focus and understanding of leadership and to guide you in the application of these principles.  It is a mindset shift to gain a better understanding of the psychology of teams, the art of project management and core competencies of leadership.


Behaviors and competencies for lean and fast teams can differ in many ways. In a recent article, two distinct behaviors stood out to me as they apply to agile teams:

·         People who are willing to take small steps and get feedback

·         People who are willing to do something that is good enough for now

Clearly, these behaviors require comfort with short term work, iteration and refinement which is key to the nature of work on an agile team.


In addition, competency of a team member defines their ability “to take action,” and in Patrick Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he clearly characterizes his five winning behaviors:

1.      Trust

2.      Conflict

3.      Commitment

4.      Accountability

5.      And a focus on results

These five behaviors are key to any small, medium or large high performing team.

Voices From the Community

We have many influential authors, speakers and consultants in our agile community. During my research, I reached out to chat with two leading authors and influential experts in the agile community to discuss their strategies to thrive in lean times.

According to agile expert and consultant, Joanna Rothman, “Too often, in the name of ‘speed’ or ‘efficiency,’ someone decides that every person works as an individual expert. There’s a name for that: resource efficiency. However, agile teams work best when they work in flow efficiency, when the team works together to finish work as a team.”

Here are some alternatives she suggested to create high performing teams that deliver quickly:

·         “Ask the team to stop estimating work in the form of tasks. If the team’s stories are larger than about a day in duration, ask the team to visualize its cycle time and see where the work takes time. Then, ask the team to reduce the wait states. The team must collaborate to do this.”

·         “Ask everyone to pair with someone else on the team. The more people work together, the more they see ways to collaborate. It doesn’t matter if those people are two developers, a developer and a tester, or two testers. In almost every case, two heads are much better than one. Each person learns what’s important to the other, a key piece of developing empathy.”

·         “Learn as a team through experiments. Too many managers and product owners want guarantees of when a team will finish what. Rarely can a team guarantee anything. Instead, build a team’s (and product owner’s and manager’s) resilience through very small, short experiments. Then, show everyone the results of those experiments. Pretty soon, the team will have learned how the product works and how they work together. And, if they created tests for those experiments, they’ve built more product development resilience.”

·         “I happen to also like mobbing on the work,” she added, “but not everyone is ready for that. When teams think in flow efficiency, they become a high-performing team who delivers what customers need fast.”

Anthony Mersino, a trainer and coach of Agile teams, said, “I have trained or coached over 100 new agile teams in the last 10 years. If I had to identify just one or two factors leading to high performance, it would come down to focus and safety.”

He elaborated on this idea:

·         “By focus, I mean that the team members can focus on the work of that specific team. Avoid assigning team members to multiple teams which dilutes their focus, commitment and performance.”

·         “The second factor is safety. Google and others have shown the importance of (psychological) safety on team performance. Increase team safety with team norms or working agreements that foster participatory decision making, engagement from all team members, and an environment where everyone feels their opinion is valued. This works best when supported by good coaching such as from a scrum master or agile coach.”

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