Characteristics of a High Performing Team

One company I worked for had this excellent Technical Lead who when the going got tough would chant his war cry ‘It’s not an issue for the highest performing team’. Now, this was meant partly tongue in cheek, but he wasn’t exaggerating about the abilities of that team. This had me thinking what exactly makes a high performing team different to other teams?

I found this article that I will refer to, from Dean Leffingwell Scaling Software Agility which I would recommend reading as it gives the reader a high level of application of Agile within an Enterprise organisation. This will give the reader some background information especially if they are working with a different model, but I am sure none of this information would be new to a tester.

  1. The team consists of the right hard & soft skill set as well as personalities
  2. Working autonomously with the right kind of leadership that suits the team
  3. Common goal that all team members have brought into
  4. High level of communication that is respectful and collaborative throughout the cycle
  5. The team takes full ownership of their results – celebrating the wins, finding solutions to the losses & refuses to be part of naming/shaming within the team

What is the right hard & soft skill that might make the individual a perfect candidate for an Agile team? This research paper makes excellent connections between characteristics and application for a high performing team  Main Characteristic of High-Performance Teams 

At an organisational level, the individual is committed to a positive outcome for the organisation but recognises work-life balance is important. Aims to work fewer hours to achieve that work-life balance and has personally brought in to the team as a member. Embraces diversity within the team, be it culture, age or sexual orientation and adds their own diversity to the team through their openness.

Soft skills include:

  • Personality – bring your real self
  • High level of respect for team members
  • Open to communication and making oneself approachable
  • Motivated attitude
  • Belief in own abilities and confidence in others
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Believes in sharing knowledge, mentoring, teaching
  • Awareness, analytical & flexible

Hard skills include:

  • Professional outlook
  • Ability to coordinate
  • Team orientated
  •  Work tasks divided & accepted
  • Focused on specific assigned task & team goals

Firstly let’s address the fact it takes time to build this kind of team and each team needs to grow through something like the Forming > Storming > Norming > Performing model of group development cited by Bruce Tuckman group development model. Having said that working with professionals who focused on specific tasks and goals, when left to their own devices, will self-organise to achieve the goal. I personally was part of a team that experienced this but unfortunately, the business made a decision to apply a dictatorship role to the team that didn’t allow for open communication. This ultimately broke the early formation of what I felt would have led to a very successful agile team. Having said that it was completely up to the business how they wanted their teams run but I saw it as a little shortsighted in their investment into team development and growth because it relies too heavily on a single individual driving & owning the process.

How do all these characteristics manifest within the individual and the team as an entity?

Nothing new here, it starts from the top where the company has a culture of high communication & collaboration that is effective and inclusive. There has been a lot of chatter about ‘Creative Economy’ where the organisation can make the transition top down to Agile where the principals can be applied from Traditional to ‘CE’:

  • Goal focused on profits >  making customers happy with the product
  • Controlling individuals/teams in decision making > enabling individuals/teams to make the decisions & trust them
  • Heavy reports, documentation, plans > just enough & just whats needed which is flexible
  • Cost cutting & dollar focused > application of company values
  • Commands & dictatorship > open conversations that are collaborative and effective

This sounds great in theory I know and it would take a large amount of trust from management to implement this methodology. Large enterprise companies I could imagine would find this very difficult to apply but it would work extremely well with startups to medium size companies where the teams are able to be kept to the ideal numbers between 5 – 9 members.







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