“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a truism whenever companies need to get things done. A superior team leading the charge can make the difference between a profitable move and a ho-hum project that barely gets off the ground.
That’s why there’s a major demand for high-performance teams, otherwise known as groups of smart, talented people with complementary skillsets who as a cohesive unit are able to outperform their peers. It’s a major goal for any growing finance organization to pull off. At RoseRyan, we strive to provide the glue that is needed whenever we bring our expertise and experience to a team.
While a high-performance team is an ideal for any organization or big project, companies do find that they don’t always come together naturally. Having worked on high-performance teams over the course of my career (most recently at a life sciences client of RoseRyan) and volunteer life, I can report that it’s a great joy working together on one.
As McKinsey partners Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith described in their ground-breaking work The Discipline of Teams, these special teams share four elements—a common commitment and purpose, performance goals, complementary skills and mutual accountability. It is a tall order but doable.
It is a glorious thing when a high-performance team gets superb results in short timeframes and the team dynamics are respectful, supportive and trustworthy. Such experiences constantly spur me on to find another high-performance team to work with and to find ways to make them happen.
I challenge anyone in a leadership position to aim for the ideal as well. There’s a payoff, which I have seen firsthand not only when I was part of such teams but also when I have created or was the catalyst for other high-performance teams either as a team leader or critical contributor. They’re goals-driven organizations that achieve superior business results. Talk about satisfying.
How can you spark one up? Below are five key characteristics of high-performance teams. Factor them in the next time you’re gathering a team to tackle a problem, building a finance team from the ground up or hiring a bunch of advisors to help you complete a deal.
1. A shared vision: It must be clear, relevant, significant, achievable and relatively immediate in order for the team to come together in a cohesive manner. It should be written down. A shared vision that is maintained and frequently communicated can be used as an anchor to bring the team back to its high-performance track when there’s conflict or changing circumstances.
2. A healthy team culture: The group should comprise diverse (and often cross-functional) team members who know, value and respect the range of skills, knowledge and experience that their colleagues contribute. There is a sense of belonging and a willingness to make things work for the good of the team. Everyone knows that they can produce something together that they could not produce alone.
Keep in mind that having a diverse set of players on the team can lend itself to discord and conflict. That’s the nature of having a variety of skills and perspectives. So it is critical to encourage a culture of trust, acceptance, respect, courtesy and a lot of willingness to listen to and understand different points of view. Make sure to recognize the individuals who do just that.
3. Clearly defined roles and expectations: This is the glue that makes it possible for high-performance teams to deliver and go beyond what’s expected of them. To get the job done, these teams need effective processes around solving problems, making decisions, communicating status, running meetings and so on.
High-performance teams tend to be committed to quality and results, and so their leaders need to know ahead of time what they want, what the different roles are, and how the team’s performance will be measured in such a way that the bar will be continually raised.
4. Team accountability: Even high performers need to know they’ll be held accountable. They need transparent agreements around how they will hold each other accountable as well as a short, simple list of operating principles that are agreed upon by the entire team.
5. Leadership: The members of a high-performance team may be more likely than others to act independently, but we all need some guidance. Leadership for these teams is more participative and based on good role modeling than it would be in command-and-control environments or groups. Leaders need to be flexible, to be able to shift their focus and style as necessary, not only to achieve team success but to gain acceptance by team members along the way.
In some situations—such as when you’re restricted to using internal resources—you may not always be able to create and maintain a high-performance team when you want to, especially when you have an organization with a mix of strong personalities and skills that are not fully developed. But in an increasingly team-driven business world, it should be a constant goal.
As a senior finance pro at RoseRyan, Kathi Varas enjoys working with high performance teams, and she’s always a team player. She specializes in startups, budgeting, forecasting, FP&A, IPO support and project planning. Kathi held several controller positions before joining RoseRyan in 2015.