Striving for excellence through high performance teams

The sustainable enterprise strives to achieve performance excellence by doing the right things, and by doing them well. By delegating responsibility for managing projects and perpetual processes, creating ideas, and problem solving to high performance teams, management can focus on overall planning and policy development and performance measurement activities. As such, management can address doing the right things, and high performance teams can address doing them well by making decisions close to the front line. By establishing a feedback loop, high performance teams can contribute to the future direction of the enterprise. Together the enterprise achieves more.

Teams are formed or emerge to address specific issues by leveraging the differing competencies and experience of their members for a common purpose. Teams are either formed by a higher authority or emerge based upon need.
The basic ingredients for teamwork include:

  • Establishing shared values, vision, mission, objectives, and goals consistent with enterprise values, mission, and vision
  • Operating according to a set of guiding principles
  • Providing an opportunity for shared learning
  • Encouraging “out of the box” thinking
  • Being mutually accountable


Teams migrate through four phases of connection:

  • Formation – determining the purpose and rules
  • Divergence – defending current positions based upon differing backgrounds
  • Convergence – accepting differing points of view
  • Association – committing jointly to the purpose, rules, and results

A “leader-managed” team serves under an appointed leader who establishes the objectives and goals. An empowering leader enables the team to become self-managed, and potentially self-directed over time.

Self-managed teams work together based upon direction from the leader-manager or another higher authority. Cross-functional teams operate across organizational units (functions and business units). Although it is hard to achieve in practice, in theory the entire enterprise is a cross-functional team.

Self-directed teams are self-managed and establish their own direction almost exclusively. Team leaders may emerge from both self-managed and self-directed teams.

Self-directed teams are formed in two ways – either because they were commissioned by a higher authority, or because of a breakdown in leadership causing a void. When commissioned, responsibility has been delegated by a higher authority because the team members have commitment, competence, and momentum, and have earned the opportunity to be empowered. However, with empowerment comes accountability to the higher authority and the enterprise.

Higher authorities act as servant leaders to self-directed teams by collaborating with them. As servant leaders, they ensure that the team is equipped to get tasks completed by having the necessary resources to operate, but not standing in their way. Servant leader collaboration does not preclude the existence of a leader within the team itself. Servant leadership is an aspect of stewardship because all participants share the values and vision of the enterprise.

High performance teams are both cross-functional and self-directed, and are focused on the improvement of people, process, and product and/or service capabilities. Higher order synergistic effects will kick-in when representatives from the legal, finance, human resources, information technology, research and development, operations, and business development functions are brought together for a common purpose.

For example, involving service personnel in design and manufacturing processes can impact how best to maintain and repair products. Involving salespeople in design processes ensures that customers’ wants and needs are considered when enhancing existing or developing new products. Involving legal and human resources personnel in manufacturing processes ensures compliance with labor laws and regulations.

Operating within the context of existing plans, policies, and performance measures, high performance teams take the pressure off of management to find methods for doing things well, and provide a feedback loop to future plans. High performance teams innovate, solve problems, and execute operational processes with high standards for effectiveness of the results, and for the team itself.


Areas of focus of high performance teams include:

  • Reducing time-to-market
  • Reducing cycle time
  • Increasing productivity and efficiency
  • Reducing production costs and operating expenses including selling, research and development, and administrative

The standards for behavior include the basic ingredients for teamwork and:

  • Following rigorous problem solving approaches that include: understanding the situation, what complicates it, framing the problem statement, pursuing alternative solutions based upon anticipated and probable outcomes, and making recommendations based upon commitment, ease of deployment, effectiveness of execution, and achievement of performance excellence
  • Encouraging lively debate that includes the views of both internal and external constituents, encourages varying opinions and points of view, respects diversity, and avoids criticism and personal attacks
  • Addressing strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats, especially to pursue under exploited opportunity, to reduce overengineered solutions, and to leverage core competencies
  • Making fact-based decisions, but not necessary inferred from facts if experience and judgment suggest otherwise
  • Exceeding expectations

By enabling high performance teams to work close to the front line, management can focus on the overall direction of the enterprise. Morale improves because decisions are made by those who are directly involved.

Establishing high performance teams is an enterpriship (entrepreneurship, leadership, and management) competency.

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