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Is There a High Performing Teams Model that Really Works?

It's a good question. Is there a high performing teams model that really works? Considering all the possible variations and emerging constructs for teams, it's also a smart question every team leader should consider.


Let's start by looking at the traditional team configuration.

Traditional structure as a high performing teams model in today's workplace

This hierarchical structure is the one represented on most org charts. A "team" is composed of a manager with a group of direct reports. The boss divides the workload, delegates assignments, and manages the performance and productivity of the group.

Within this model, the degree of team interaction and interdependence is highly variable. Some members of the work group may have little or no contact with others. Calling this a "team" may be a stretch if all the members of this group have in common is the person they report to.

For a manager seeking a team model that unifies a work group, the starting point is this question: Why? If the traditional structure is getting the job done and members of your work group are satisfied, there may be no benefits realized. When people are thrown together (even for the short duration of a meeting) to talk about things that are irrelevant to them, it doesn't often result in instant unification.

Before changing the model, be sure there is a reason to form a team of interdependent people working on a common goal. Don't bog individuals down with an artificial team affiliation for your own convenience or in the hope that it will motivate them in some rah rah way. If you are looking for higher performance, don't assume it will automatically come from any ill-conceived model.

However, for work groups where all the individuals are united by a common purpose, thinking as a team is highly likely to improve performance. In this case, a work group can be transformed into a team well-defined roles and responsibilities, clarity about hand-offs, and a charter for how members will collaborate.

Unfortunately, there are no prescribed models for the construction of these teams. There are tools and tips, but no model that universally applies across all job functions.

The self-managing approach as a high performing teams model

The buzz about SMTs (Self-Managed Teams) never really took hold in practice. In the late 1980s, SMTs seemed to be the natural progression of Ishikawa's Quality Circles and Deming's work to introduce Japanese models to the western world.

A Self-Managed Team is a group of workers without a manager. Individuals are trained to self-correct and monitor their own performance. In the traditional hierarchy of an organization, there is usually a manager with direct reports. In an organization with SMTs, there is no hierarchical reporting structure.

For most of us, the closest experience we have is when we work on a project team. Typically, this is a short-term assignment with an executive sponsor or other senior support in the background.

Whether it be for a temporary team or a full-blown, full-time SMT, there are no models readily available for this type of team either.

For cross-functional task forces, the high performing teams model may be even more essential

Change in organizations is usually led by a group of individuals representing a mix of job functions. This group is charged with solving a problem, introducing the solution, and ushering in change across the organization.

Cross-functional teams are also appointed to collaborate and build bridges when there is a need for improved efficiency, quality or service.

Typically, team members are given few tools and little direction. There may be competing interests, especially when individuals believe their role is to defend their own department against changes the team is to champion. Ego, time constraints, lack of teamwork skills, and other natural barriers are simply not addressed.

Without a model for how to come together, most teams flounder. Many fail. At a minimum, teams struggle to accomplish their shared goals in a timely and gratifying way.

The essential components of a high performing teams model

Without a high performing teams model menu to select from, you're left to your own devices. You may cobble together some tools like these -- a RACI model for assigning roles and responsibilities, a behavioral model like Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team pyramid, a model of the phases a team will experience like Tuckman's Stages of Group Development. But as good as these tools are, they fall short of giving you a clear model and prescription for a high performing team.

If such a model existed, it would include the following:

  • Indicators to determine if a team approach were the right one or not
  • Selection criteria for choosing members of the team
  • Team structure, including roles of various team members
  • A charter outlining the team's purpose and expectations about how the team would work together
  • Desired outcomes and interim goals, complete with deadlines
  • Clarity about any authority held inside or outside the team
  • Resources for the team and how they are to be accessed
  • How the team is to deal with internal conflict and external obstacles
  • What support the team will need from those outside the team
  • Activities to train and motivate team members to improve collaboration and results
  • Development opportunities for each individual team member

The CONNECT2Win High Performing Teams Model

Here at People First Productivity Solutions, we continue to pursue and develop tools and models that will serve teams well. Our clients use our proprietary model to boost team effectiveness while also ennobling individual members of the team.

We've helped work groups and teams to do the following:

  1. Understand cross-functional tensions within a division and resolve these tensions by building business acumen and improving communication.
  2. Accelerate problem-solving and shared decision making.
  3. Improve employee engagement by shifting to a model where all voices are sought, heard and appreciated.
  4. Boost productivity, quality and customer satisfaction by eliminating rework and misunderstandings at hand-off points between departments.
  5. Identify "elephants in the room" and tackle tough problems with sensitivity.


The CONNECT2Win Blog has been discontinued. The CONNECT2Lead Blog continues, and you'll find free and affordable resources for team on People First Leadership Academy