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4 Elements of Leading High-Performing Teams

Due to COVID and its aftereffects, your team may look a lot different than it used to. Organizations have upsized and downsized and have changed their geographic footprint. Most organizations are leveraging new and different technologies, and others are not meeting physically anymore at all. We have also seen a lot in terms of talent mobility in the last year. People are changing jobs and coming into new organizations, and new teams and leaders are forming.

It’s never a bad idea to discuss team dynamics and how to optimize them, but due to our unique point in history, we are at a pivotal moment in the way workplaces operate, and we are in the perfect place to explore what a leader’s role is for creating and managing a high-performing team.

The Most Common Leadership Roadblocks to Leading High-Performing Teams

Last year, GP Strategies conducted research about common leadership stumbles and successes. When asking people about the biggest stumbles they saw their leaders make, lackluster communication was at the top. Communication is the bedrock of high-performing and agile teams, and this research indicates that leaders are not taking a lot of time to really pause, understand, and discuss why teams exist, what their purposes are, and what their goals should be.

Anyone can pick up a bow and arrow and immediately shoot it. But if you want to hit a specific target, and for your shot to be effective, you need to first take the time to locate your target and aim before you loose the arrow. Are you taking the time to pause and take stock of your resources and talent, create goals with those assets in mind, and then communicate these things to your team?

The 4 Elements to Leading High-Performing Teams

Every team needs a leader, and every leader wants their team to succeed. Here are four primary ways a leader can foster their existing high-performing team or help guide their current team into high performance.

1. Build Trust

The relationship between employees and leaders is dyadic—it’s all about the quality of interaction and trust between the two parties. And trust is an interesting word. You can ask ten different people what trust means, and every single one of them could give you a different definition.

Trust is also on a continuum. It is not black and white. Some employees may trust you completely at first until trust is chipped away. With others who are more guarded, you may need to gain trust over time, starting at the point of hire. This means it can be very difficult to decipher how much collective trust your employees have in you as a leader, but creating the opportunity to build trust really comes down to a few key factors: consistency, credibility, and authenticity.

If you’re consistent in your approaches to solving problems, assigning projects, and interacting with your employees, if you do what you say you will do, and if you show up as the person you really are and are truthful in your words and actions—if you show this relevant vulnerability—you will create the conditions that can build trust, maintain it, or rebuild it.

2. Create Connection

Once you establish or reestablish trust, as a leader, you need to create connections. Doing so is more important than ever, according to research. Airspeed reported earlier this year on the issue of workplace social disconnection. They found that nearly 70% of workers surveyed reported they would quit their current job for a company where they believe they’d feel more connection. People are craving attachments now, particularly in this remote, virtual, and digitally enabled world we are working in.

Leaders need to get creative in the way they connect their teams to each other, facilitate connection among team members, and connect themselves with individual team members. This is one of the biggest topics of conversation with our clients right now: how exactly do we forge connection in our workplace climate? It’s important to consider the opportunities you’re providing for people to connect with each other on both work-related and occasionally on non-work-related topics.

Leaders can also create psychologically safe or inclusive environments by handling conflict well, coaching and developing employees, and amplifying the strengths of individual team members whenever possible.

3. Seek Alignment

In this remote and hybrid workforce, it can be difficult to get people on the same page, but building alignment is an important piece of leading high-performing teams. Let’s picture your team as a rowboat. You have some employees rowing on the left side of the boat, some rowing on the right side, and some at the stern. It’s critical to ensure that everyone who is rowing is doing so in the same direction, toward a common goal, or you’ll be perpetually stuck in the same place without making progress.

This part of leadership can take a lot of work. Aligning your team means making sure your team members are all aimed toward a common goal. Alignment is all about communication, and the process of great communication begins on day one—right with onboarding. It’s important that new employees have access to the resources, tools, and people they need to get their job done. And then it’s important to check in regularly to ensure that access to those things hasn’t changed.

On top of that, it’s also necessary to pause and ensure that you are indeed heading in the direction you want to go, that everything your employees are doing aligns with the overarching organizational goals or business strategies, and to then create ways to track progress, hold people accountable, measure success, and recognize individuals.

4. Drive Results

You could have the best communication, high team morale, and excellent levels of trust, but if you are not getting things done, you’re not working in the greater service of your organization. The inverse is of course true, as well: if you have a highly effective team in terms of results, but there is no connection or alignment, that’s not sustainable. Working in that environment will not provide a good experience to your team and likely won’t last long.

Achieving goals is often the metric that leaders of leaders use to determine success. Delivering results is the bottom line, and there are a lot of things that underpin delivering results depending on your industry and type of team. But from a bird’s-eye view, facilitating great results and deliverables is about making sure the right people are working on the right things. Your team could be working really hard, but if that energy is misdirected or misaligned with overarching goals, the results you want won’t materialize. Take the time to uncover individual strengths of your team members and assign responsibilities accordingly.

Improving as a Leader to Facilitate High Team Performance

There are a lot of ways leaders can improve specific behaviors to build trust, connection, alignment, and results. It all begins with understanding your current baseline. Take an honest assessment of where you are now, how you’re performing, and how your team is performing. This self-evaluation can be formal or informal. It’s crucial to also get feedback from your team. How do they think your team is operating? What gaps do they detect in your overall strategy? Do they feel purpose and connection? In what ways do they want support but aren’t receiving it?

After you have been honest with yourself about where your team currently stands and have received their input, be relevantly vulnerable and honest with them. Let them know what areas you believe need improvement and what your vision for the future is.

These more public conversations can feel uncomfortable, but being authentic and communicating will help make enormous progress toward creating that productive, safe environment that fosters a high-performing team.

About the Authors

Katy Bailey

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