The world runs on teams. Jobs that could have been solitary at one time or another happen more efficiently and at higher quality because we work in teams. The number of teams we form, and the size of those teams has increased exponentially since our ancestors formed teams to chase down prey.
And so has the importance of building teams that perform well together.
You’ve probably felt what it’s like to be on a high-performing team. You feel energized. Your brain is on fire with great ideas, and conversations with the team spur on even more. You finish work each day with more energy than when you started. And you’ve probably felt what it’s like to be on a low-performing team with a broken culture. You end each day drained. You feel let down after every meeting and wonder it it’s worth it to continue.
We know we need to build the best team we can, but many of us still wonder how we can do it. In this article, we’ll examine 5 habits of high-performing teams and offer some guidance for how to adopt these habits on your own team.
Clear, Quick Communication
The first habit of high-performing teams is clear, quick communication. It seems counterintuitive, but effective teams may not always be in constant communication. According to research by Anita Williams Wooley and Christoph Reidl, high-performing teams often have long periods of time for individual work, punctuated by short bursts of communication. These teams have learned how to quickly come together, share the necessary information, and then disperse to complete their tasks.
One way to implement this approach is to adopt the “scrum” format from the Agile software development method, where team members give status updates in a quick daily meeting before getting back to work. By having regular bursts of status updates, team members can stay informed about each other’s progress, challenges, and how they can help. This can achieve the same benefits as a long weekly meeting while leaving more time for actual work to get done.
The second habit of high-performing teams is conversational turn-taking. In a different study also led by Wooley, high-performing teams were more likely to take turns and ensure everyone was a part of the conversation. Equal participation allows all team members to share their thoughts and ideas, fostering a collaborative and respectful atmosphere. Leaders can facilitate this by establishing meeting ground rules, such as allowing everyone to speak and limiting interruptions. They can also seek input from quieter, more introverted team members to tap into their valuable perspectives.
Leaders should model conversational turn-taking by actively listening and acknowledging all team member contributions. This sets the tone for inclusive and productive conversations. By encouraging conversational turn-taking, teams can leverage the diverse skills and perspectives of all members, resulting in better decision-making and outcomes.
The third habit of high-performing teams is respectful debate. High-performing teams embrace diverse opinions and work together to find the best solutions through respectful debate. In fact, a lack of debate may indicate a lack of original thinking or that team members don’t feel comfortable expressing their ideas. According to research by Charlan Nemeth, teams that engage in respectful debate generate 25 percent more ideas and better-quality ideas.
When solving problems, it’s important to acknowledge that debate is necessary to think outside the box. Conflicting ideas should be framed as a challenge to overcome or as a catalyst for better solutions. This approach ensures that the team can find the best possible solutions by leveraging the unique perspectives and expertise of all team members.
The fourth habit of high-performing teams is nonwork conversations. While work is important, spending time together doing activities that are not work-related, such as sharing a meal or grabbing a coffee, can be effective in creating bonding opportunities among team members. During these non-work interactions, team members engage in broader conversations, self-disclose about other areas of their lives, and build “uncommon commonalities” that make them feel better connected to each other in the long-term.
These uncommon commonalities help create an atmosphere of trust, understanding, and mutual respect, which translates into improved performance, innovation, and job satisfaction. As team members see each other as individuals with interests and personalities beyond their roles at work, they are more likely to support each other, collaborate, and communicate better. Leaders can encourage and facilitate non-work interactions to create stronger bonds between team members.
The fifth habit of high-performing teams is consistent appreciation. Researcher Ron Friedman and his team found that individuals on high-performing teams are 44 percent more likely to give compliments, praise their colleagues, and show appreciation for their work on any given day. This goes beyond a quick round of praise at a monthly meeting or compliments preceding or following constructive criticism. Instead, the praise comes from a genuine place of appreciating that one’s performance is dependent on others, and every individual success is a win for the entire team.
By recognizing the value and contributions of every team member, high-performing teams create a culture of appreciation and mutual respect. This promotes a sense of belonging, motivates team members, and fosters a positive work environment. Moreover, it acknowledges that success is not only an individual accomplishment but a collective effort. Therefore, every team member deserves recognition for their contribution, regardless of their role or position. The result is a more engaged, productive, and committed team.
Choosing where to get started building these five habits can be difficult. But unless a team is already engaged in consistent appreciation, that is probably the best place to start. Because none of the other habits are going to stick unless the team actually does respect and like each other. And if they do, they’ll build these other habits faster and become a team where everyone can do their best work ever.
About the author
David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.