5 things high performing teams do differently

An interesting piece of research from ignite80 that suggests that the highest-performing teams have found subtle ways of leveraging social connections during the pandemic to fuel their success.

The findings offer important clues on ways any organisation can foster greater connectedness — even within a remote or hybrid work setting — to engineer higher-performing teams. Doing so takes more than simply hiring the right people and arming them with the right tools to do their work. It requires creating opportunities for genuine, authentic relationships to develop.

You can read the full article on the Harvard Business Review here.

The authors present five key characteristics of high-performing teams, all of which highlight the vital role of close connection among colleagues as a driver of team performance.

1. High-Performing Teams Are Not Afraid to Pick Up the Phone 

While telephone calls are becoming increasingly less common in the workplace in general, that’s not the case among high-performing teams. The research found that they tend to communicate more frequently in general, and are significantly more likely to communicate with colleagues using the telephone than their less successful peers (10.1 vs. 6.1 calls per day on average).

This makes sense. Recent studies have found that while most people anticipate that phone calls will be awkward and uncomfortable, that’s a misperception. Not only are phone calls no more awkward in practice, they also tend to strengthen relationships and prevent misunderstanding, contributing to more fruitful interactions among teammates.

2. High-Performing Teams Are More Strategic With Their Meetings 

It’s no secret that poorly run meetings contribute to employee dissatisfaction, drain cognitive bandwidth, and cost organisations billions.

The findings indicate that high-performing teams avoid the common pitfalls of poorly run meetings by incorporating practices shown to foster more productive gatherings. Specifically, they are significantly more likely to require prework from participants (39% more likely), introduce an agenda (26% more likely), and begin with a check-in that keeps team members apprised of one another’s progress (55% more likely).

By ensuring that time together is both efficient and collaborative, high-performing teams don’t just make better use of their meetings — they also set the stage for more fruitful interactions, contributing to better relationships.

3. High-Performing Teams Invest Time Bonding Over Non-Work Topics 

From a managerial standpoint, it’s easy to frown upon workplace conversations that have nothing to do with work. After all, what good can come from employees spending valuable work time chatting about a major sporting event or blockbuster film?

However, research suggests that discussing non-work topics offers major advantages. That’s because it’s in personal conversations that we identify shared interests, which fosters deeper liking and authentic connections.

Within the study, it was found that high-performing team members are significantly more likely to spend time at the office discussing non-work matters with their colleagues (25% more) — topics that may extend to sports, books, and family. They’re also significantly more likely to have met their colleagues for coffee, tea, or an alcoholic beverage over the past six months.

In other words, the best teams aren’t more effective because they work all the time. On the contrary: They invest time connecting in genuine ways, which yields closer friendships and better teamwork later on.

4. High-Performing Teams Give and Receive Appreciation More Frequently 

A key reason the need for relatedness contributes to better performance at work is that it makes us feel valued, appreciated, and respected by those whose opinions we prize. It’s why recognition is often a more powerful motivating force than monetary incentives.

Within the study, members of high-performing teams reported receiving more frequent appreciation at work — both from their colleagues (72% more) as well their managers (79% more). Critically, they also reported expressing appreciation to their colleagues more frequently (44% more), suggesting that within the best teams, appreciation doesn’t flow from the top down. It’s a cultural norm that’s observable in peer-to-peer interactions.

5. High-Performing Teams Are More Authentic at Work 

Within the study, members of high-performing teams were significantly more likely to express positive emotions with their colleagues. They reported being more likely to compliment, joke with, and tease their teammates. In emails, they were more likely to use exclamation points, emojis, and GIFs.

Interestingly, however, they were also more likely to express negative emotions at work. We found that they were more likely to curse, complain, and express sarcasm with their teammates.

Why would expressing negative emotions at work yield more positive performance? It’s because the alternative to expressing negative emotions is suppressing them, and suppression is cognitively expensive. It involves expending valuable cognitive resources attempting to hide emotions from others, leaving less mental firepower for doing the work.

Previous studies have shown that authenticity contributes to workplace well-being and individual performance. Our research suggests it lifts team performance as well.

Needless to say, there are times when expressing negative emotions at the office isn’t helpful or appropriate. What this finding suggests is that, to the extent that team members experience the psychological safety to express their full range of emotions with their colleagues, overall team performance tends to benefit.

Some nice points.



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