Dr Amy Climer

Episode 48: 6 Basics of High-Performing Teams

Very few teams reach high-performing status. Those that do all have six things in common. This episode reveals the research on high performing teams and explains the six basics every team needs to become high-performing. A free slide deck accompanies this episode.

What You’ll Learn

  • Six basics of high performing teams
  • Three types of teams

Resources to Help You Overcome Your Inner Critic

The Weekly Challenge

Listen to the six basics of high-performing teams. Identify one area your team has a gap. Have a conversation with your team about that gap. What can you do to improve in that area? Share comments or questions below in the show notes. Would love to hear from you!


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 48. How are you all? I hope you are having a wonderful creative week. Today’s episode is about high performing teams and I am going to share with you the six basic aspects that high performing teams need, and this is all based on research. I am going to share with you some interesting research about high performing teams.

Before I do that, I wanted to share with you a new podcast review. This review comes from Berin9521684. It is a five star review titled Practical Insightful Podcast. And Berin writes, “This is a great listen for anyone involved in leading or working on teams in organizations. The Deliberate Creative Podcast with Amy Climer combines creativity research with change leadership topics. Spending time with Amy will give you deeper insights into team dynamics and ways to creatively engage for success. I’ve actually listened to the entire series more than once because the topics and delivery are so thought provoking and practical. Thank you Amy for this awesome resource.” Wow! Thank you for that great review. I really appreciate it. I cannot believe you have listened to the entire series more than once. Wow! Maybe you have a really long commute. That is super cool though. I hope that it is helping you become a better leader and a better team leader and drive your team to be more creative.

I also have a super cool thing for you all today. I have a free download for you. I have put together a series of slides to go along with this episode. So if you go to my website at www.climerconsluting.com/048, go to that website address and you could download the slides. I would suggest using the slides in one of a couple of ways. First, you can just have them as a visual great reminder of here is the six basics of high performing teams. Or you could use the slides and the podcast episode and get your team together for say a lunch and learn or kind of a breakfast gathering or something, play the podcast, use the slides and then after the podcast is over, have a conversation about these six basics and where are the gaps. Where are you really good at? What are you not so good at? What do you need to work on in order to become a high performing team?  So that is a gift to you.

This whole episode really came from a workshop that I did this week. I presented at the University of Wisconsin Rethinking Leadership Conference and I had a great experience, an amazing lineup of other presenters and I felt really privileged to be there and present and this is what I presented on. I talked about what the current research is on teams and I am going to share a portion of that today with you.

The six basics of high performing teams come from two researchers; Katzenbach and Smith. They wrote a book called The Wisdom of Teams. It originally was published in 1999 and there is just a brand new edition that came out either this year or last year. So I highly recommend the book, it is a great book. It explains their research on teams and they really boil down everything into if you want to be a high performing team, here is what you need to do. So I am going to give you a little glimpse into their research and hopefully it will help your team become even higher performing.

To start, I want to share with you the definition of teams that Katzenbach and Smith use. I use this definition in my dissertation. I have also, I believe, mentioned it on a previous episode. I think the episode where I talked about The Difference between Teams and Working Groups. So you can go and listen to that episode if you want to understand the difference. Today, we are specifically talking about teams. They define teams as a small number of people committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. That is the definition of teams that we are using today.

One of the things that came up in the workshop that I did this week on this topic was this idea that it is a pretty aspirational definition. You might have a team that you do not fully fit that definition yet but you are working towards it, and that is okay. That still counts. So perhaps you are not fully committed yet to a common purpose or performance goals, but you are working on it and that is okay. That is a good thing. Keep working on it and that is what we are going to talk about today. So here are the six basics.

Keep it small [05:38]

Ideally, I would say a team size less than 12 is ideal. You can have more, more can work for sure, but I think once you get up into say 16, 20 people, it makes it difficult to really hear from everyone and for it truly to be collaborative. It is just too many people. And often what happens when you have a team that big is you end up developing sub-teams, anyway. I say keep it small. If you can get it small as like four to seven, I think that is really nice. I think you get more work done in some ways than if you have a bigger team. So keep it small. It is more effective.

Build a team with complementary skills [06:23]

You want to have complementary skills on your team. So you want to have people with different skills that can complement each other, that can work well together. Sometimes what happens in organizations is, a team is developed and team members are selected based on their role. “Oh, we need the marketing director, we need the CFO, we need…” and you are bringing people in just because of their specific role, when actually you may not need them their because of their role, you might just need some marketing insight from time to time or you might need some financial insight from time to time. They do not necessarily need to be a full team member. Instead, it may be worthwhile to think about who has the skill set that we need to accomplish what we are trying to accomplish.

Three types of teams [07:17]

There are three types of teams. One type is teams that make or do things, one type is teams that run things, and then the third is teams that recommend things. So which of those three teams are you trying to develop and what different skill sets do you need? And select people based on that. Of course, the other piece is you can also develop skill sets while the team is operating. I think training is a great way to do that, feedback is a great way, and that is certainly important. Not everyone is going to show up with the perfect skill set that you need. But thinking about complementary skills can be really valuable.

Be committed to a shared purpose [07:58]

You want to have a shared purpose. Almost always when a team is first developed, there are some reasons for them getting together in the first place. But I have found what happens is sometimes when I talk to teams and I ask them, I say, “What is the purpose of your team?” They have a hard time articulating that. It is important for teams to spend time really understanding what their purpose is and creating a shared purpose. So it is not just a purpose that is handed down from above, but it is something that every team member embraces and it gets excited about. So that shared purpose is critical for a team to succeed.

Be committed to shared performance goals [08:45]

Number four is shared goals. This obviously builds upon that shared purpose. I would think of the purpose as like the bigger overarching mission that is driving your team. Not the organization’s mission statement, that is even bigger and different, of course your team would fit into that, but your shared purpose is really what is driving your team. And underneath that you have your shared goals. These are going to be shorter term goals, things that you can accomplish, what are we doing in the next month. These goals are shared, meaning everyone is on board with them, you develop them collectively. That commitment around the shared goals and the shared purpose is critical for a high performing team.

Be committed to a common approach [09:35]

You need to be committed to a common approach. So this is the how. So you can think of the shared purpose as your why, like why are we doing this, and your common approach is the how. This might include the economic and the administrative aspects of your team, the social aspects as well. You are going to agree on who will do what and how decisions will be made. Yes, you want to have a conversation about how decisions will be made.

Also, people should be doing equivalent amounts of real work. You do not have to measure perfectly the amount of work each person is doing, you should feel a sense of equalness as far as the amount of work that is going into the team. And when you think about the common approach, I would also think about point number two, about that complementary skills and really using each other’s strengths and their preferences to build a team that is really strong. The whole purpose of a team is that collaboratively you can do more together than you could individually. So in order to really tap into that, you want to be able to use each other’s strengths. So having a common approach will help facilitate using each other’s strengths.

Mutual accountability [10:59]

Number six is mutual accountability. There is a big difference in a team that holds themselves accountable versus a team where the boss holds them accountable. The level of commitment and the motivation is much greater if team members hold themselves accountable.

Those are six basic things that teams need if they want to become high performing. So just a quick review;

  1. Keep it small.
  2. Build a team with complementary skills.
  3. Be committed to a shared purpose.
  4. Be committed to shared performance goals.
  5. Be committed to a common approach, the how.
  6. There must be mutual accountability.

In the slides, you will also see I put an image in there from Katzenbach and Smith’s book. It is this triangular diagram that shows the different pieces of this. It is a little too much to actually explain on a podcast, so you can go download the slides and you can see that in there. I highly recommend the book. I will put a link into the shownotes so you can access that easily. Again, the shownotes  are www.climerconsulting.com/048.

The Weekly Challenge [12:28]

This week for your weekly challenge, I want you to think about these six things that we just talked about. What is one area that your team can improve in? Once you have identified that one area, have a conversation with your team to help your team move a little further. Let’s say, for instance, one of the things you have never done is actually talk about how decisions are made. Have a conversation with your team. You might even say, “You know, I have realized that we have never actually had a conversation about how decisions are made in our team. We have made decisions before, but sometimes it can be confusing and I want to just make this explicit and let’s have a conversation about how do we want to make decisions as we move forward.” You could just say something like that and then you have the conversation and hopefully you come to agreement about how you will make decisions moving forward. That is just one example. Whatever you pick from one of the six things, whatever you decide is a gap, have a conversation with your team and see what happens.

You all, I hope this was helpful. I hope this helps you take your team to that next level, because that is what it is all about. Have a wonderful week. Let me know if you have any questions. If there is something you want me to cover on the podcast, shoot me an email, I will respond to you and I will be happy to incorporate it into a future episode if I can. Have a wonderful week and I will see you next time, bye.

Note: The links on this page may be affiliate links. That means I get a small commission of your sale, at no cost to you. However, I only share links to products that I or my guests believe in. Enjoy them! 



Rave Reviews

  • Amy Inspires Creativity Growth in Everyone
    January 5, 2022 by cjpowers7 from United States

    Amy Climer’s show helps all of us grow our creative muscles. She is authentic and cares about her listeners. Amy empowers us with tools that work in the office, training sessions, and our communities. The best part is her ability to make what feels out of reach, something that can be accomplished with simple steps forward.

  • A great way to get inspired!!
    March 8, 2021 by binglish from United States

    Love listening to Amy’s podcast! Her guests are awesome and conversations are full of inspiring information.

  • A must for people who want to think better
    May 26, 2019 by Dhensch from United States

    Amy Climer hit a home run with this podcast and continues to get hits with every episode. I was hooked with the first one and binge-listened to the four solo episodes about the Creative Problem Solving process. Her knowledge of the subject of creativity and innovation is incredibly deep. And, she makes it easy for others to learn and apply. I have listened to other "expert" podcasts and Amy's is different in that she holds nothing back. Episode after episode offer practical insights, tips and tools. She has a generosity of spirit that is contagious.

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