What exactly is meant by a high-performance team? First we examine the attributes of such a team and present a model that will help us build one. High-performance teams are more than merely highly productive. A team composed of experienced, capable people can be very productive until those people hit an obstacle or are confronted with an unexpected challenge. This is the point at which the team either shows its strength or reveals its limitations. Teams that successfully persevere tend to have certain characteristics:

- A positive team environment

- Collaborative problem-solving

- Leadership

- We can break the components of a strong project team into three areas:

- A strong team requires each of the individual components

- The strength of the team in the way the pieces work together

- Weakness in one component cannot be compensated for by strength in another component

The three primary components in the team model—positive team environment, collaborative problem solving, and leadership—are described below with their component parts.

A Positive Team Environment

A positive environment promotes trust and respect among team members and increases performance through more productive work habits. Creating this environment requires four specific elements:

- Ground rules that describe the work patterns and values of the team

- A team identity built on commitment to a shared goal

- The ability to listen

- The ability to effectively manage meetings

Broken into these elements, we see that a positive environment is not merely an abstract feeling; it is a set of observable skills that a project manager can instill. Further, this positive environment produces two important characteristics of the high-performing team:

- Personal ownership of the team goal

- Strong interpersonal relationships based on trust and respect

- Collaborative Problem-Solving Capability

We have established that project teams solve a series of problems and that they need to learn to work together to solve those problems. Build this collaborative capability by focusing on four team abilities:

- Problem-solving skills tied to an accepted problem-solving process. A team made up of individuals with diverse skills and styles must agree on the process they’ll follow for working through problems, both large and small. A commonly accepted problem-solving process enables all team members to flex their styles because each understands and trusts the process.

- Understanding and applying multiple decision modes. Some decisions are made solely by the project leader; other decisions are made by the entire team. These are only two examples of decision modes. Efficient decision making requires that a team understand the possible decision modes and consciously choose which are appropriate for any decision.

Positive team atmosphere

- Conflict-resolution skills. Producing superior decisions demands creativity, which necessarily produces disagreement. Mature teams accept and value the inevitability of conflict. They have the skills to leverage conflict to achieve the best decisions while maintaining strong relationships.

- Continuous learning. When innovation and breakthrough solutions are required, the team’s culture must embrace a certain amount of risk taking and have the ability to improve its own performance throughout the project by learning from both success and failure.

- Each of these capabilities can be developed by the team, though not all are simple. Together they create a truly synergistic result: decisions and products that are superior because they are developed by a team with diverse styles and talents.


The keystone of our high-performance framework is the leader who ties the team together. No team will reach its potential without one or more people consciously attending to the health of the team. The key focus of the framework is the abilities that the team possesses. The actions a leader must take to nurture and establish these capabilities include:

- Attending to the health of the team. The leader must have a personal conviction that team health affects the project’s results.

- Maintaining the strategic vision. The project manager must maintain a steady focus on the outcome of the project and the path toward that goal.

- Attending to team members. Team member personal performance can vary according to their motivation, confidence in project leadership, respect with which they are treated. Recognize efforts and accomplishments regularly and openly to other team members and even customer project team members.

- Exhibiting and demanding accountability. Keep promises, deliver on responsibilities and hold team members accountable for their responsibilities and actions.