I regularly ask the question, and get asked myself; what is a high performing team?

And here is the thing, I don’t answer. Not because I don’t know, rather it isn’t my role to define or set the standards of what high performance looks, sounds, or feels like.

Steven Covey in his best selling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” found that effective leaders, “…always begin with the end in mind.” For this reason I encourage leaders to define what high performance means to them instead of leaning on the researched definition.

The way I get leaders to do this, is to consider and answer the following questions:

1. If you took away all perceived and real barriers what would your team look, sound, and feel like?

If I ask the question, what are the characteristics of a high performing team?, I tend to get a lot of generic responses such as, uses effective communications, set goals and has a defined. However, there’s nothing inspiring or individual about that.

The way I frame this first question significantly broadens a leader’s thinking. It also removes any real or perceived barriers that stand in the way of them reaching their goals.

Asking leaders to ‘look, sound and feel’ requests they explore and inquire more broadly than the generic ‘checklist’ of what success is, and arrive at their own definition of it.

That said, I believe the desire for continuous improvement is an essential component of any team, and that striving for excellence needs to be fostered by a team leader. One of the traits of a great leader is their ability to set a vision for their team and draw people into it.

Approaching success from a different angle allows leaders to investigate what it is they really want.

2. What changes are needed to reach this vision you have of your team?

This question encourages leaders to investigate the gap between the present moment and the future vision of their team. Leaders tend to automatically look at the need to change processes and procedures within the business rather than, more critically, looking at the need for the cultural (values and beliefs) changes. Culture or, “…the way we do things when no one is looking,” is the essential foundation of ANY successful team. The reason culture is typically an afterthought is because developing it is the challenging part of building a team. However, a leader will ignore their team’s culture at their peril!

3. What’s next?

When you are asked, what is a high performing team?, the answer shouldn’t come from a textbook, academics or me. All that matters is the answer you and your organisation come up with.