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11 Tips for Building High Performance Teams


“High Performance Teams”. Google this phrase and you will find 534,000 results -articles, books and other “expert” opinions.

I had the opportunity to interact with 11 engineering leaders last month. This was during a 5 day engineering management workshop that I lead for professionals from Automotive, Aerospace, Off-Highway and Heavy Truck industries.

While covering the topic of High Performance Teams, I asked, “What has worked well for you in creating High Performance Teams?”

Each leader provided 1 response. Their responses are captured in the image accompanying this article. Each response is also included in the body of this post, with a short text elaborating the tip. I felt their responses were at par or better than what most “experts” cite. Hence, I am sharing the responses from these practicing leaders in this article. So here they are:

  1. Give Team Credit
  2. When things go right – Give credit to the team. If the team leader is insecure and hogs limelight for things gone right, it can erode trust and create toxicity.

  3. Avoid Blame – Work on Solution
  4. When things go wrong – avoid blame. Instead work on solutions. The magic lies in the art of asking meaningful questions that can shift the focus of the team from defensive, negative energy to positive. E.g. Let's say injection mold tooling was kicked off to an incorrect design release. “Why did we kick off tooling per the incorrect model?’ will generate blame and defensiveness. Instead, ask, “How do we ensure that correct model is always used to kick-off tooling?” This avoids blame and re-directs energy towards finding solutions.

  5. Celebrate successes
  6. This is easier said than done. Authentic appreciation and celebration of success is an art. Top reasons why leaders don’t celebrate successes? 1) Lack of awareness of the boost it can provide for morale 2) Fear of appearing “soft” 3) Simply not knowing how to celebrate successes and exhibit gratitude.

  7. Work on tasks together outside of work
  8. This can be working as a volunteer or for social or charitable causes & projects together or other non work related projects and activities outside of work to overcome a problem and deliver results.

  9. Weekly learning sessions – presentations
  10. Team members take turns to present about a topic they have expertise in and that the rest of the team would find valuable. Typically 1 hour sessions.

  11. Filling in for others when out - Cross Training
  12. Cross training ensures that team members can fill in for others when some one is out sick, on vacation or otherwise unavailable. Building a culture where the group of people working together is truly a team requires that they can pitch in for each other as required so the projects keep moving along.

  13. Charisma – Relationship building
  14. High performance teams are well connected. They know each other well – more than the tactical and transactional information. They know each other’s aspirational goals and have gone through shared experiences such as working on and solving problems together. Relationship building does not occur at transactional level of interaction, where we only know superficial information about the team mates. It happens at a much deeper level of knowing what the team members are driven by, passionate about and care for.

  15. Schedule frequent face to face even when some team members may be remote. Call outside of work related calls
  16. Such non-work related calls & contact helps to establish rapport and create informal lines of communication & better functioning for remote teams.

  17. Give and receive – Reciprocity
  18. As Robert Cialdini states, this can be the most powerful form of persuasion because it makes a person feel obligated to “repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”

  19. Informal Information gathering
  20. Build relationships so that the Informal networks bring issues & challenges to light earlier than formal mechanisms. Earlier detection can ensure faster resolution.

  21. Training/Learning – Professional Growth
  22. Enable & encourage lifelong learning & professional growth for team members.