high performing teams

4 Insights for High-Performing Teams

A few weeks ago I was preparing for a meeting with a potential client. I knew I was going to walk into that meeting and have to answer a whole bunch of questions, and it would be a deciding factor on whether we won the work or not. But I had a whole bunch of questions for them too, and I wanted to make sure the answers would tell me whether this was a good fit or not. And I had 20 minutes for the Q&A. Yikes!

I thought long and hard about the projects we had last year. Most of them were pretty good, a few of them were knock-your-socks-off fantastic, and one or two fell apart. The question was: Why?

Why do some projects fall apart and some succeed, when on our end it’s the same process all the time? What is the difference? What are the indicators of success and failure? Are they universal?

Then I realized: sure, a proven process is great, but unless we have a shared mindset on our approach, the project falls apart. And the qualities are specific. I figured out there are 4 qualities that MUST be met if this project is going to work out, be that a year-long retainer or a two-hour workshop.

To succeed, high-performing teams must be:

1. Honest

This seems like a no-brainer, right? No one wants to be called a liar. But honesty is bigger and harder than we all realize. We are typically working with entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. We’re all aspiring to be and do monumental things that are going to change the world, right? Sometimes we see and play out a version of the truth that most fits our circumstances at the moment.

Being honest is hardest when you have to be honest with yourself: What are you good at? What aren’t you good at? What have you tried and failed? What is really going on? Are you your own obstacle for getting things done? Are you the best fit for your role?

2. Brave

Being brave isn’t just about taking risks and being bold, it’s about doing the right thing. It’s about leading and acting with compassion for the people you are bringing along with you. Brave teams are unafraid to address the big problem in the room and look for a creative solution. Brave teams challenge long-held assumptions about how they work or what they do. This is where the big insights come from, from a willingness to say the thing that might shake up the room.

3. Curious

This one was originally “open-minded” but it needed to be more than that. Curiosity isn’t just being open to ideas, it’s being interested in something more. It’s about listening and asking good questions without judgment.

4. Kind

This is the last one I added to the list. I was thinking we could get by with the previous three qualities, but when I took another look, I realized you can be honest, brave, and curious and still be a real asshole. When we add kindness to the mix, we don’t have to name compassion, respect, and vulnerability, because those are all wrapped into kindness.

Whether you’re working together for a few hours or years, capacity for kindness toward your teammates is probably the make-or-break indicator for continued success as a thriving, innovative group of problem solvers.

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Design thinking methods are the best thing ever to facilitate collaboration and surface ideas, but even those can fail miserably if these conditions aren’t established up front. We just launched a website for a large, prestigious organization in Chicago and the experience was so wonderful in so many ways we kept thinking: why? Why did this go so well and how can we find this kind of team to work with again? What made our blended team so great? All of these qualities were met over and over again in every interaction: from the initial sales process to the work, to the relationship we’re building over time. This is how work is done.

Now the challenge is to extend these qualities to every process and interaction we have as individuals and as a company and to help others do the same. I think we’re onto something here.

To help you get there, we created this worksheet to define your own essential qualities.

Download the worksheet here: WKST-qualitieshighperforming1.pdf (2 downloads)