What a High Performing Team Looks Like and How to Create One

| by Ben Linders Follow 27 Followers on Aug 10, 2017. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes | NOTICE: The next QCon is in San Francisco Nov 5 - 9, 2018. Save an extra $100 with INFOQSF18!

High performing is a team property, a temporary state which needs attention if teams want to keep on performing well. Things you can do to build a high performing team include creating safety, investing in developing collaboration skills, and giving peer-to-peer feedback.

Patrick Kua, principal consultant and tech lead at ThoughtWorks, spoke about building a high performing team at QCon London 2017. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

Kua explained the difference between a group of people and a team. In a group people have individual goals and most of the time they are not working together. People in teams work towards a shared goal and they get rewarded as a team for reaching it.

In high performing teams there can be conflicts, which may sound counterintuitive, said Kua. When people work intensively together conflicts arise and teams have to deal with them. Kua gave an example of dysfunctional behavior in teams where someone changes the code that someone else wrote, and then the person who wrote it changes it back. But by doing so people are avoiding conflict, which is not good, he said. Good conflicts involve healthy discussions; teams need to be in an atmosphere to make this possible.

Leadership is taking an act and helping people to come along with this act, said Kua. He suggested to encourage leadership at all levels, and have people think about what is it that they can do to help the team.

We can use systems thinking to understand and improve how teams work. A team is a group of people working together. The behavior is unpredictable; no two teams are the same, said Kua. High performing is a team property. It is only a temporary state; it needs attention if teams want to keep on performing well.

Teams have emergent behavior which is based on their interactions. Kua suggested to invest in developing collaboration skills, preferably the ones that team members can apply in their daily work.

Teams can do "ways of working sessions" to define and agree how they want to work together. But often teams get stuck in the brainstorming phase discussing different approaches. Kua suggested to set expectations on what to do and how to work at the start, and let individuals share what they think is important. It can be worthwhile revisiting your way of working after some time, as things will change along the way.

Teams have to create safety in order to talk about things that involve everyone. Kua mentioned the "prime directive" from Norm Kerth which can be used to create a safe environment. Teams can experiment with change; if it goes wrong then they can go back to how they did things before. Kua suggested to take small steps and focus on improving the interactions between team members.

Peer-to-peer feedback can help teams to improve daily interaction between members. Kua suggested to do it frequently; as a minimum every person should get and give feedback once every month. He also suggested to train people on giving effective feedback.

You should look for people with different backgrounds and different skills when forming teams. Diversity matters, said Kua. He suggested to "look for different DNA". A tool that you can use is "moving motivators" from management 3.0. Kua stated that we should appreciate differences and explore contexts where traits are useful.

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