There’s a difference between high-performing individuals and high-performing teams. That’s not to imply there’s something wrong with individual contributors and individual goals. We need them in every organization. But organizations need high-performing teams to achieve their strategic business goals.

In contrast to individual goals, team goals are established, managed and evaluated differently. A few common characteristics to team goals include:

  • A big hairy audacious goal (often known as a BHAG). Teams are often aligned by a singular purpose or goal that drives their decision-making.
  • Shared values (whether that’s the company values or the team’s). High-performing teams need to exhibit the same organizational values like leadership, respect, etc. It’s also possible the team will adopt some core values that are necessary for them to be successful, like a sense of urgency.
  • Collaboration, group communication and the ability to debrief. Teams are able to accomplish their goals because they work together. That means successfully communicating and collaborating on milestones. In addition, there is research to support that team debriefs can improve performance by up to 20 percent.
  • A common measurement or evaluation. Each person on the team is evaluated by the success or failure of the team goal. High-performing teams accept responsibility together for results.

I’m reminded of a team goal I worked on years ago where an organization needed to develop several training programs within a very short period in time. They assembled a group of employees and consultants to carry out the task.

The group had never worked together before. But we were brought together with a common goal (to develop the training). We respected each person’s skills and knowledge, but we also had some team ground rules because of the close quarters we had to work in and the accelerated timetable for goal completion. We came together regularly to communicate the status of our milestones and meet with the team leader. Lastly, we accomplished our goal because we put the team goals ahead of our individual needs.

One thing our team leader did to set us up for success was conduct team development sessions. Team development isn’t the same as team building, which could be defined as role clarification. Team building has a place, but team development includes:

  • Creating the conditions for the team to be successful. This includes both the physical conditions like workspace and equipment as well as the emotional conditions. An example of emotional conditions would be the leader running interference for a team member, so they’re not bogged down in office politics.
  • Teaching team members to resolve their own conflict. While there are times when the team leader needs to get involved, team members should be able to resolve minor conflicts and differences without mediation from senior management.
  • Encouraging team members to coach and provide feedback to each other. Not only should team members work together to reduce and eliminate obstacles, but also they need to support each other. Receiving recognition from the team leader is nice, but receiving positive feedback from another team member can be even more gratifying.

Going back to my previous example, our team leader made sure we had the best equipment, reliable internet, etc. He also made sure we received training on project management tools and problem-solving strategies so we had a common framework to start work. He recognized us for our contributions and other team members started recognizing each other. It wasn’t anything big or flashy, but it was sincere.

To develop and manage high-performing teams, team leaders must take on the responsibility of making sure the team receives the development time necessary to accomplish their goals. Being a team leader isn’t about managing the activities the team needs to do. It’s about creating the work environment that allows teams to manage themselves.