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High Performance Teams

Updated on November 12, 2011

Published: November 12, 2011

High-performance teams are clearly identifiable by the consistent results they achieve. However, many may argue that work-groups often achieve the same types of results as high performance teams. Therefore, to clearly make a distinction between the two we must first define what work-groups and high performance-teams are.

Defining Work-Groups

Achieving organizational goals using individuals who independently work is characteristic of both work-groups and teams. What defines a work-group is that the members of the work-group do not necessarily buy into the purpose or goals of the group. They are present due to organizational dictates or job classifications and members do not often accept responsibility for the success or failure of the group. In essence, a team may be a work-group but not the other way around.

Defining High-Performance Teams

As stated above, teams are collections of “individuals working individually toward common organizational goals” but five characteristics separate teams from work-groups. These characteristics are as follow:

  • teams establish clear boundaries
  • teams establish common tasks
  • teams differentiate member roles
  • teams exhibit autonomy
  • teams share a collective responsibility

Among these characteristics, the last one may be the most defining. Team members share collective responsibility for the successes and failures of the team. This often leads to team members forming a group identity and developing synergy within the team. Forming synergy within the team is what leads teams to become high-performance teams and culminates in the consistent results they achieve.

Work-groups may never exhibit the characteristic of teamwork. Lawford (2003) explained that teamwork exists when members of the team integrate a level of action, attitude, purpose and values within individual members and among the team. A team cannot exist until the quality of teamwork develops.

Teams become high-performance teams when they remain intact and grow to consistently meet the following three criteria:

  • produce high-quality products
  • promote individual growth and welfare among the members
  • achieve composite learning and growth

Approaches to Organizational Strategy

Organizational strategy varies from organization to organization and among the various groups that make up those organizations. The quality of products originating from an organization employing work-groups may be lower than those that successfully elevate work-groups to high performance teams and those employing virtual teams may lend a different approach as well.

Work-Group Approach

The work-group approach to organizational strategy may include smaller organizations and those organizations that have not successfully developed effective team structures. Work-groups generally include members with varying degrees of willingness to be a part of the group. Work-groups may accomplish the same tasks as high performance teams but some degree of synergy is missing; production levels and quality may be lower for organizations employing work-group strategies alone.

High-Performance Team Approach

Members of high-performance teams have developed a common identity and share the goals and purposes of the team, unlike work-groups whose’ members may or may not be excited to belong to the group. Organizations that successfully develop teams into high-performance teams can expect the highest levels of production and quality. The members of a high-performance team accept joint responsibility for the successes and failures of the team so the motivation for success is higher than for work-groups. Success of a high-performance team translates to success for the organization and all members of the team understand this concept.

Virtual Approach

The virtual approach to high-performance teams adds the element of locating team members in locations where they will be most effective. Adding the characteristics to a team that identify virtual teams can help a company increase shareholder value through the strategic allocation of resources. However, not all organizations or teams are suited for the virtual approach to high-performance teams. Much effort is required to grow a high-performance team and the virtual aspect can add a great deal of effort to the successful stages of the team life cycle. Those organizations that establish virtual high-performance teams definitely set themselves in a highly competitive position.

Virtual Teams Support Organizational Strategy

The advent of the Internet and other technological advances removed organizational requirements to place members of a team in a central location. Team members may be scattered across geographic boundaries without serious degradation to the team’s performance. These geographically diverse collections are referred to as virtual teams.

Organizations can place virtual-team members wherever they are most effective. For instance, an organization with a headquarters in Toledo may develop a virtual team with the team-leader in Toledo, a marketing director in Boston, a production manager in Toronto, and a research analyst in Portland. Each of these team members reside in different regions but can still collaborate effectively. Virtual teams exhibit the following characteristics:

  • geographically dispersed residences
  • seldom meet face-to-face
  • rely of technologically based information and communication

These characteristics differ greatly from co-located teams, which tend to exhibit exactly the opposite characteristics as virtual-teams.

These types of relationships between employers and employees can fit in very well with an organization’s strategy to carry out the mission of the organization more efficiently than the competition without sacrificing shareholder value. When handled appropriately, telecommuting for team meetings and functions from locations that provide the most value for the organization while supporting the personal development and happiness of team members can be a win-win situation for all involved.

Leadership in High-Performance Teams

High performance teams need clear direction in order to function well. Providing that direction for high-performance teams begins with the team leader, many times through providing an example for team members to follow. Effective leaders of high performance teams demonstrate the following four skills:

  • invest in ongoing personal development
  • provide directions, structure, and resources
  • help manage boundaries
  • manage interventions


Grouping employees together to individually work toward the completion of organizational goals and purposes is characteristic of both work-groups and teams. Work-groups and teams, however, are two distinctly different entities. One of the largest differences between work-groups and teams is that teams share collective responsibility for the team’s successes and failures. Effective leadership is the key to developing high-performance teams.

High-performance teams are teams that have elevated their performance to the point where consistent successful results are expected and achieved. The members of high performance teams develop a synergy that maintains an identity and excitement among team members. Virtual-high-performance teams, high-performance teams with geologically disperse members; add another layer of strategic advantage to organizations that can successfully develop such teams. Placing resources in the most strategic locations for the tasks at hand lead to a highly competitive advantage.

The importance of high performance teams to organizations cannot be overstated. The competitive nature of business today provides challenges for all organizations. High-performance teams help organizations realize the successful results of their organizational strategy at a lower cost than would otherwise be possible. The synergy developed by high-performance teams produces outcomes where the sum of the result is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, high-performance teams produce outcomes that are of greater value than the individual team members could produce individually if not part of the team.

What are your thoughts?

The author appreciates all comments.


Lawford, G., R. (2003). Beyond success: Achieving synergy in teamwork. The Journal for Quality and Participation. 26, 3.


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